Friday, December 30, 2011

Now, Lord...

Old Simeon made me laugh this morning. The Feast of the Holy Family tells the story of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. There, Simeon and Anna see what sages have long foretold – the Christ of God. It is a moment of recognition, joy and surrender. Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel. Maybe, it’s the translation [NABRE] but it sounds a bit bossy to me. Simeon reminds me of myself. “Now, Lord, I’m ready to ______blank______.” “Now, Lord, could you _____blank____?” What makes Simeon so lovable is his utter conviction that his life had a purpose. God gently revealed a truth to him – as only God can do. Simeon knew that he would see the messiah. So, when the moment came he believed his last breath would be imminent. The narrative never tells us if the faithful old man goes “in peace.” It’s not really important, is it? Simeon is so close to God that he knows salvation is coming. He knows it like I know my birthday or the color of my mother’s eyes. Simeon understands that this knowledge is not for him but for people of faith who have waited centuries for Love to come and visit us. Everything we know about God’s love is meant to be shared. And, like old Simeon, our lives have purpose in the coming of the kingdom. If salvation history could be views as a jig-saw puzzle, most of us would be blue sky or indiscriminate border pieces. Even if we are not the beautiful pieces that make up the tableau – the Mary or the Joseph – we have a role to play in the completion of God’s plan. Each Christian life fits in there somewhere. Each human being brought to the waters of baptism carries a message for the world – a message that only we can deliver in our choices, our loving, where we give our time and energy. Like Simeon we know that Christ is coming. At our last breath – when he comes for us – we will know Simeon’s deep joy.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A poem...

It’s a season not a day.

From the first star
to Jordan’s bank
a message:


Be at peace…
because God so loved the world.

Do justice…
because all flesh is holy.

because nothing else matters.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

T-minus 8 hours!

We celebrate Midnight Mass - at midnight. Fewer and fewer parishes do. I love it. I love the absolute darkness, the stars shining bright and the beautiful candles that line the driveway! We are nearly ready. We've been decorating, cleaning and polishing for three days. If it weren't for some very good friends, we'd be lost. The scrambling is all part of the excitement that's building in our house. The change from purple and pink to greens, red ribbons and a host of angels takes energy and imagination. Praise God, we've got a lot of both! At 5:00 PM we will pray EPI of the Nativity, then bless our tree and exchange gifts. [Each sister has one present under the tree!] Then, as darkness falls, we prepare our hearts for the midnight liturgy. Know that all of our friends, oblates and benefactors will be remembered this night and throughout the Christmas season.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I love the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. I saw it this past November in its entirety for the first time in over 10 years. [I am usually in the monastery kitchen assisting with the meal preparations.] I was struck by several things: ten years in a monastery changes one’s ability to identify cartoon floats; the performers still lip-sync but better than they used to; the appearance of Santa at the end of the parade still signals the beginning of wish lists, letters to the North Pole and VERY good behavior! Yet, as all the color and sound took center stage on 33rd Street, my eyes were drawn to a single word ablaze on Mr. Macy’s building: believe. A little research soon yielded a deeper story. Macy’s “Believe” Campaign raises funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation – the non-profit that makes dreams come true for seriously ill children. How beautiful! While "corporate America" is under fire for selfishness and greed, it is a sign of a hope that does not disappoint. Truly, to whom much has been given, much will be expected. When companies use their resources to lighten the burden of suffering in our world, they must be praised.

Today is December 22nd. The "O Antiphons" - the liturgical countdown from the 17th to the Eve - are nearly finished. We are just three days from the Feast of the Nativity. It is a feast of faith that the promise fulfilled two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, is a sign of hope yet unfulfilled. Christ is coming. He is coming back for all of us and he will take us into the heart of God. As we wrap pretty packages and feel our hearts expand through these holy days, may we all believe.

…that something new will be born in us this Christmas
…that even death cannot take spouses, friends, dear children from our hearts
…that this feast is a promise of a greater gift – a moment beyond understanding, but accessible now in faith

…that the Word still becomes flesh in us
...that the love we feel at Christmas is but a fraction of the love that awaits us

Blessings and love to you and a Merry Christmas!
- Sister Vicki

Monday, December 5, 2011

Incredible but true...

In today’s gospel the followers of Jesus are witness to a cure. A paralytic is brought before him on a mat. The obvious faith of those involved moves Jesus. He forgives the man’s sins by his word which scandalizes the rabbinic authorities. His response is an outright miracle. "I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home." Those who witness this mysterious healing are stunned by what they have beheld. “We have seen incredible things this day."

I did a dumb thing yesterday afternoon. [Trust me, this will connect.] I took a cell phone picture while I was driving. The sunset over the city of Richmond was so beautiful, I wanted to capture it. It was a winter/Advent sunset – bright pink, dusty blue and purple. It was truly incredible. I was, in my own defense, off the Interstate and on a quiet back road not far from our convent - still, not something I want to make a habit of doing. I’m certain incredible sunsets happen all the time and I just miss them. Or I see them, without really seeing. When my heart is attuned to beauty I know it is God’s Word – a whisper of Presence and faithful love. The funny thing is that I don’t know how to get a photo from the phone to the computer. But, I can send a picture to a friend. Sometimes it’s a photo of Lily – one of our monastery dogs. She just delights me to no end! Once, I sent a picture of a car we were considering to the prioress so she could say “yes” or “no”. Yesterday’s urge was the very human desire to share something beautiful with another human being. When we are moved by something, we want to give it away. So, last evening, I sent a little text message to a friend before I went to sleep – with the picture. Of course, I am not equating a sunset with a miraculous healing. I am suggesting that God is always the source of wonders – large and small – in our lives. God heals us with beauty, comforts us with the rhythmic changing of the season and loves us through our friends, families and, in some lives, a monastic community. We have seen incredible things – individually and communally – and it is our baptismal responsibility to share the Good News in whatever form it comes to us. Like those first disciples we must tell the story of God’s love for the world – a Love that became flesh for our blessing. Yes, it is incredible - incredible but true. It is our faith.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

As it should be...

There are things I just wonder about on a regular basis– life on other planets, what puppies really think, what really might be in a hot dog. There are other things of which I am certain – love is the way, God is good, dying is the beginning. In the latter list I would add something from today’s reading. Isaiah paints us a picture of the world after Messiah’s coming. We may hear it as Israel’s preparation for the Incarnation. But we are in a new age now. We cannot neglect the empty tomb as we reflect on the humble manger. Isaiah asks us now to dream not of the birth but of the return. This Scripture affirms something I believe with all my heart. On that day…there shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea [Isaiah 11:1, 9]. When Christ comes again everything will be as it should be – as it was intended from the beginning. Not only has our relationship to the Creator been fully restored by his selfless sacrifice but all creation will know the harmony of Triune love. This is the same passage with the famous metaphor of the beasts – the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, etc. Imagine! What if it read something like this?

People of every faith will worship God together,
Israel and Palestine will share the “Promised Land”;
terrorists will lay down their explosives,
and the widow and orphan will forgive the unforgiveable.

“Yours” and “mine” will disappear,
And there will be only “ours”;
No one will go to sleep hungry
for feeding one another will replace the need for sleep.

Death will be forgotten unless we tell the story,
Bodies will be made whole and shine like the sun;
Words will be unnecessary,
For the Word will teach us to speak with the heart alone.

This place of pain and longing will become the garden God intended,
The Christ will reign with love and justice;
And through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
All glory and honor shall be yours, Almighty God, forever and ever!

Yes, this someday is for certain. This is the promise of Advent. We wait with joyful longing for the One who has taken our flesh into the heart of God and will return for us – for all creation. May we live this day and every day certain of our destiny in Christ. May we bear the sufferings of this time, these bodies with courage and trust. As Christ is, so we shall be.

Advent joy and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Come down quickly"...

My brother, Andrew, has three sisters. If he wanted playmates he had to deal with the feminine principle. We had a little playhouse in our backyard that my grandfather built for us. It looked just like our house in miniature. It was one room with a porch, windows and a shingled room. We played inside and on top thanks to a sturdy tree. It was the epicenter of outdoor play until one day when a carpenter came and built a tree house. I think my Dad figured he needed something more boyish to play in. After the tree house was finished, my brother began to spend more time up in the air than on the ground. He spent less and less time with me and more time with the neighborhood boys. All of a sudden I had “cooties” and the tree house was a girl-free zone. As you might imagine I didn’t like that very much. I remember climbing the ladder, slowly because I was afraid of heights. I made it to the trap door and knocked hoping my brother would suddenly remember how much fun I was to play with. His response was immediate and decisive. The trap door opened and a bucket of acorns was dumped on my head. I held on for dear life and then returned to earth in tears. As soon as I told my Dad what the boys had done, he came down the hill to the tree house and barked, “Andrew Ix, get down out of that tree and apologize to your sister!” He did, of course. It didn’t change things. I still wasn’t welcome in his clubhouse, but he stopped trying to kill me. My Dad made my little brother accountable for his actions and gave him the opportunity to make things right between us.

I think the Lord, Jesus did the same thing for Zacchaeus. He called him down from his safe place in the treetops and offered him the grace to change. There are times in the spiritual life when we get stuck in some tree house of our own creation. We stay up there...comforted by the safety of monastic routine. We stay up there…so we can focus on what others are doing. We stay up there…because we fear the work of change that awaits us on the ground.

Yes, Jesus calls each of us to “come down.” The Lord wants to enter the house of our heart and do what the divine physician does best. He wants to heal us. Jesus makes it clear here that he’s especially interested in hopeful sinners who are willing to do the work of GOD. Our patron, Saint Benedict, has shaped that very desire into a beautiful way of life. May we each have the courage to “come down quickly” when the WORD calls us by name and embrace the challenge we find there. “Salvation has already come to this house.” We need only accept it.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

They are at peace...

The Feast of All Souls is an opportunity to pray for all who have gone before us. Do they need our prayers? The Church teaches that if we’re not ready to see God face-to-face, the prayers of the faithful can help us. Do we really understand what that means? Not really. No one has come back from the dead except the Lord Jesus and his message was peace, eternal life, freedom from fear. So…what to do on this solemn day? I suggest we make a visit – not to grave or columbarium – but a visit with them in our hearts. When we image the face of a loved one and remember the love we shared, the love returns to us in prayer. Though beyond our sight, they come very close because they miss us, too. Should we worry about the state of their souls? I suppose we could but real faith in God means trusting the promises expressed in today’s readings. Jesus says, “I will not reject anyone who comes to me [John 6].” The psalmist prays, “even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side [Psalm 23].” And in Wisdom we hear, “they seemed to the foolish to be dead; and their passing away was thought and affliction and their going forth from us utter destruction. But they are in peace [Wisdom 3].”

When my Mother died in 1990, it was faith that saved me. What Jesus said from the cross to the Good Thief kept me from despair. “This day you will be with me in Paradise [Luke 24].” “This day,” Jesus said - not tomorrow or next week or fifty years from now. When I pray for my Mother and all my beloved dead, I pray as if they are in the fullness of God’s embrace. It feels right. It feels true. They are at peace.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Such a "mother hen"...

Today’s gospel offers us a very interesting image of JESUS. As he describes his love for Jerusalem he says, “I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” The gospel is a sad one – filled with ominous undertones and the personal exasperation of the greatest prophet to enter the City of David. Yet, as he contemplates his destination, JESUS offers us yet another testimony of the depth of his love. This image comforts me.

I’m from Northern New Jersey so I know as much about hens as I do about the surface of the moon! But, I had a mother. This experience is all I need to make sense of his love for us. If we were to make a list of every moment of mother-love, it might speak of the time before we had words – when being held and fed and comforted changed something in us, made us feel safe and worthy of love. The list might mention the way a mother gives the best of everything to her child – takes the burnt piece of toast or uses the money in the cookie jar for a doll instead of the dress she was saving for.

This hen-GOD has big wings under which we are kept safe. Most of us have had the experience of "the arm" – mother’s arm holding us back when the brakes were suddenly applied. Unconscious, instinctual and determined – a mother’s love knows no end. We can be 40, 50, 60 and still be someone’s little girl or baby boy. Imagine GOD loving us this way…and more! Remember, JESUS uses the natural world and all we understand to get the message through that we are loved beyond our deepest imaginings. GOD is always more. The gospel also highlights our freedom. JESUS longed to love the Chosen in this way but they “were not willing.” GOD still needs our “yes”, needs our permission to love us to death. Often, it is fear that stands in our way – a wall we build around our hearts because we can’t really believe that we are loveable. The spiritual life is about getting over ourselves and letting this love into our lives. All the wounds, the disappointments can be healed. Earthly mothers are always limited in their loving. Some even fail to provide the basic love a child needs to thrive. If that is the case we must find new mothers – women who will love us "as is" and put a Band-Aid on our hearts. Do not abandon or desert me, my savior, my God. If my parents rejected me, still God would take me in. (Psalm 27:9b-100). And, thanks to the Lord, JESUS, we have this beautiful image to contemplate. In our prayer we can try to imagine the warmth and safety JESUS offers to all people. God will cover you like a nesting bird. God’s wings will shelter you. (Psalm 91:4).

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tea, anyone?

In the monastery we have a “House Meeting” once a month. It’s a forum for bringing up the nitty-gritty things inherent in community life: cleaning the lint out of the dryer, leaving the seats back in the cars for ease of entry, turning the glasses over after they’ve air-dried, etc. Once, long ago, I remember the tea cup discussion. Apparently, tea stains and the dishwasher can’t quite do the job. We were asked – “we” being the tea-drinking nuns – to wipe out the mugs before sending them to the dish room. Easy enough to do, I thought. Today’s gospel gives us a similar reminder. The inside of the cup – the human soul – takes more work than the outside. It’s easy to look holy. It is far more difficult to actually be holy. But a little extra effort goes a long way in the spiritual life. One of the nice things about monastic life is the common goal – we are all trying to clean the inside of the cup.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Thursday, October 6, 2011

News from the Monastery...

The Benedictine Sisters of Virginia are happy to announce...

The "Bristow Bulletin" has gone paperless! Sister Joanna Burley, OSB, one of our novices, is the new editor. You'll notice more color photos, expanded formats and more articles. Subsequent issues will be available on the homepage of our website, or by e-mail subscription. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We have a cricket in the Chapel...

It was hiding under the cart of GATHER hymnals behind our Chapel. Now, I think the little guy is somewhere in the body of the church. The cricket sings in the morning darkness before Morning Prayer and even during. I like the sound. It doesn’t disturb me or diminish the silence we keep. It reminds me that we are vigiling – waiting for the dawn to come – and listening deeply for the voice of God. It’s funny. If I saw the cricket, I’d probably gasp or suppress the instinct to smoosh him. Yet, as he adds his song to ours, I feel him a brother – part of God’s good creation. Although 6AM prayer is not physically easy, it is spiritually energizing. I find myself coming to wakefulness in the midst of a circle of faithful, loving women and we are all tuning in to the Presence together. The little one chirping in the hollows reminds me that all creation is waking to a new dawn – a new moment of grace. Such is the gift of life for all who wait in stillness. If we wait, God will come.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Galileo would love this!

Theology and science are not “strange bedfellows”. The God who created all things reveals the perfection and genius of creation through science. As our knowledge expands over the centuries, we discover new marvels wrought “in the beginning” – the work of the Word and Spirit at play making something wonderful from utter chaos. Today we celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross. The wood of humiliation became a standard of victory over sin and death. Christ’s obedient surrender to the violence and politics of his day opened a pathway for all who believe in his name. What does this have to do with science? This cross we adore and glory in is not only ours to embrace externally. It is actually a pattern found within the chemistry of the human body. “Laminins are major proteins - an important and biologically active part of the basal lamina, influencing cell differentiation, migration, adhesion as well as phenotype and survival [Wikipedia].” These proteins, when viewed microscopically, reveal the familiar shape. Many think it a simple coincidence. I’m not big on coincidences. We are God’s – body and soul. If we can see it now because of science, then it must be time to see it and bend a knee to the cosmic Christ who is first and last, within and beyond.

“Lord by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.”
Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Monday, September 5, 2011

The BIG Weekend...

[below] Sisters Joanna and Shirley
[right] Sister Andrea

[below] Sister Pat and her director, Sister Doris, receive a blessing. [right] Sister Pat signs her profession document before laying it upon the altar.

We’ve just concluded a three-day celebration of monastic life. Labor Day weekend is the time we have all our formation ceremonies and get individually commissioned for a new year of ministry to God’s people. This weekend contained three separate liturgical rites, three receptions and the blessing of ministries. In the blur of moving furniture, setting tables, tuning instruments, ironing our Sunday best and cooking for 60, we did for our newest members what was done for each of as we moved deeper into the monastic life. Here’s the good news:

We have three novices! Sister Joanna Burley, OSB, hails from Florida. A musician and educator, Joanna has been giving her gifts graciously in her postulancy. Sister Shirley Arce, OSB, moved to Bristow from California. She is an artist and serves the community as webmaster. Sister Andrea Westkamp, OSB, was born in Germany. A citizen of the United States for over a decade, Sister Andrea spent over twenty years of her life as a missionary Franciscan. Now, she embraces a new path as a Benedictine Sister of Virginia. We are blessed to call these three women our sisters.

Sister Pat Novak, OSB, made her First Monastic Profession at Evening Prayer Sunday night. This three-fold promise of obedience, stability and fidelity shape the Benedictine life. Sister Pat’s profession is for three years with the hope that she will make perpetual profession – a permanent commitment to this community and to the Benedictine search for God.
This morning – this Labor Day morning – our prioress, Sister Cecilia, blessed each of us for the individual works to which we have been assigned. A beautiful prayer card with our “jobs” for the year came with a hug and a smile. There is a happy/sad moment on Labor Day, too. Our sisters on mission return to Richmond and Arlington. More hugs, kisses and yes, some tears. Sister Kathleen Persson, OSB, is moving into Saint Gertrude Convent today. Though we will see our missioned sisters several times a month, I am still left with the feeling that a few pieces are missing from the puzzle. That’s community – this mysterious entity which, like the Body of Christ, is so much more than the sum of its parts. Community is where the living God dwells among us. We are sisters in Christ – daughters of Benedict and Scholastica. And somehow, when all days end, Christ will bring us all together to everlasting life [RB 72:12].

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Thursday, August 25, 2011

We are all connected...

I woke up at 1:15 this morning. I grabbed the cell phone which had been set to vibrate at 5 AM. Realizing that it was still time to sleep, I happily rolled over. At breakfast I learned that there was an aftershock at 1:15. It wasn’t the phone vibrating. It was the earth.

The 5.9 earthquake two days ago continues to be a hot topic of conversation at table and on the local news. This sturdy cement-block structure was built 50 years ago and resembles the Catholic elementary schools of the 1960’s – solid as a rock! Other structures in the area were not as sound and suffered cracks and crumbles. Several historic structures in DC – the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument – had more damage because of age and design, I suspect.

I am in awe of creation and grateful that we were spared the sufferings of Haiti or Japan, Alaska or California. Earthquakes are not fun or to be taken lightly. All in all, this earthquake did little to harm but much to awaken us to the power of nature and our interconnectedness. Twenty-two eastern states felt this quake – not because of its magnitude, though 5.9 is significant. These states rest on one tectonic plate – share real estate in a primordial sense. Interesting to see one event ripple out so far – touch so many lives and light up so many cell towers simultaneously! The earth can teach us many lessons. We are, in fact, interconnected. Our joy, our pain, our love sends out a ripple into the world. Every act of goodness blesses and every selfish sin has its repercussions. This truth is from the beginning – when we were made in God’s image and likeness. We have within us the capacity for great love – the love that changes things and transforms lives. This redemptive love is building in the world – not unlike the earth’s energy beneath millions of layers of clay and shale. That building up of love’s power is the kingdom coming. And, one great day, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. We need not fear its coming. Our loving, our relentless pursuit of right relationships, our longing for wholeness simply beckons Christ to come.

Blessings and love to you all…

- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 16th...

“Jesus said to his disciples,… it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

Today is the memorial of the death of Elvis Presley. [I’ll bet you thought I was going to say St. Stephen of Hungary or Brother Roger of Taize.] Actually, all three men have something to teach us if we can hear today’s gospel through the lens of their lives. We can learn what being rich really means and what is truly possible for God.

Stephen was a strong advocate for the Catholic faith and was crowned the first king of Hungary by the Roman pontiff. Rich in faith, rich in power, rich in wisdom, Stephen was acclaimed a saint less than fifty years after his death. Brother Roger – the founder of the Taize community in France – was killed by a mentally ill woman during Evening Prayer six years ago. An ecumenist by vocation, Roger helped to pen the community rule, nurture the simple chant that drew thousands on pilgrimage and gave his life as a martyr for Benedictine hospitality. Rich in faith, rich in imagination, rich in holiness – Brother Roger’s dream of Christ’s body made whole continues to be enfleshed by his brothers.

Last, but not least, Elvis Aaron Presley – a poor Mama’s boy from Tupelo, Mississippi – died on this day in 1977. “The King” of rock n’ roll was 42 years old when he died alone in a mansion called, “Graceland.” Rich in fame, rich in material wealth, Elvis was plagued by addiction, spiritual restlessness and a deep loneliness.

Jesus has taught us that the kingdom of God is at hand – here, in our midst. To “enter the kingdom” means living with God now in fidelity and joy – confident that the kingdom will come in its fullness later – in God’s time. I suppose it’s Elvis’ kind of rich that Jesus was talking about in this gospel. Although he was a believer in the gospel and a spiritual seeker throughout his life, somehow he was unable to know the true freedom of the children of God. Fame, money, sex, drugs – all these things became stumbling blocks – as they can for all people. St. Stephen and Brother Roger possessed another kind of wealth – the riches of faith, hope and love. When these are our real treasures, no stumbling block will keep us from entering the kingdom – right here, right now. Our simple Benedictine life is the path that leads us to the kingdom. And every now and then, when we have our priorities straight and our hearts open wide, the One who called us here beckons us to enter through the narrow gate. Here, now, we are given a taste of heaven in Word and wheat and in the intimacy of the common life. We are the rich ones. We know that God does the impossible within us and for us every day of our lives.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Eye has not seen..."

The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin gives us a wonderful opportunity to meditate on the glories of heaven. In her person God manifests the wholeness and dignity which is proper to every believer. The Blessed Mother experiences death – crosses the boundary between here and there. In that she shares our humanity. But the Church teaches a different end to her story. Her body is not returned to the earth but taken to heaven. Her body and soul know no separation. She is, by virtue of her faith in the angel’s word, given a special prerogative. And we, in her assumption, are given a glimpse of what we can only imagine. “Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love God (I Corinthians 2:9)." But one day when the human project reaches its fulfillment, we shall each be made whole in Christ. Our bodies, like our souls, shall be raised and glorified. It is too much to understand but not too much to believe. If God raised Jesus from the tomb, God can raise us as well. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of this Marian feast is the knowledge that God wants this wholeness for us. To her who bore the Son of God, this special gift was given first. We who have followed Christ through death into life by baptism will know this sacred unity of body and soul at the end of the age. What we celebrate today for Mary, we celebrate also for ourselves. Where she is – body and soul – we shall also be. Happy feast!

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What I learned from "Real Time"...

We’ve had two wonderful women with us this week for our “Real Time” in the Monastery program. We’ve never done this before so I’ve been looking for its worth and graces. Typically, interested women come for a weekend of discernment or a vocation retreat during the sacred seasons. This has been most fruitful. Yet, women often express the desire to spend more time with us – real time, ordinary day-in-day-out time. We have a "Live-In" Program to meet that need, but that’s long term. Women in our Live-In Program are usually in for a year of discernment. So, finally, after seven years of vocation ministry, I’m trying something new. As usual, there are things to tweak and improve but overall, I am pleased to have this kind of time with women who are eager to pray and to work. That’s basically what they’ve been doing this week – ora et labora – pray and work.

Two of our monastery gardens needed serious watering. Our first arrival taught me much about how living things. Did you know a flower can be beautifully in bloom, yet its roots dry and longing for water? I had no clue but I guess people are that way too. Any one of us can look A-OK on the surface and deep inside there is a dryness – a spiritual or emotional longing that needs attention. All the more reason to give one another some room to be less than we wish them to be. We never know what another person is carrying inside. I also learned that “puzzle people” abound – and not just in monasteries! And working a puzzle with someone can be an opportunity for building relationship – elbow to elbow, searching for the last piece of a blue sky.

Even what might have been disappointing became a blessing. Our “luau” at the pool turned into an indoor event due to thunderstorms. It was the best “pool party” we’ve had in seven years! We skipped the swimming and went right to the dancing. After a few tropical tunes we switched to Big Band and dancing classics for the benefit of the elders who came to join the fun. Every one was welcomed with lei and invited into the circle of fun. The Vocation TEAM outdid themselves on the decorations. When we were worn out, we moved on to popcorn and a movie. Great fun…special for us as well as our guests. As we blessed our friends this morning, I wasn’t so much thinking about the party – as fun as it was. I was thinking how much I’ll miss them in the oratory and in the dish room. [We spent a lot of time there!] I guess that’s another plus for the “real time” program. Retreat days have their highs and Benedictines are ALWAYS looking for a party. Yet, it is the “normal” routine of prayer and work that steadies our feet on the path to God. In the Chapel, in the garden, in the library or the dishroom - time spent in prayer and work sanctifies us gently over a lifetime. Real time is holy in the monastery. Maybe, that's once of the reasons I came and, more importantly, of the reason why I stay.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Back on the grid...

It’s been too long since I’ve written. I’ve missed the writing and perhaps you’ve found my absence curious or even disappointing. It’s been a VERY full summer. In the last six weeks alone, I’ve been to Minnesota, North Carolina, Indiana, Deltaville, VA & Richmond. I’ve never had to be in so many places in quick succession. But grace abounds! I’ve been content – pleased to be exactly where I was for a few days or even a week. All but one trip were monastic “business.” The exception to that was my vacation week – the long-awaited “week 52”. [See last summer for an explanation of that term of endearment.] The rest was just glorious and sufficient to fill the tank for the rest of my journeys. Each little jaunt was a blessing in its own way – something learned, someone I needed to talk with, experiencing life in other monasteries. While I haven’t really had time between trips to process and sort, I know God will use all of it in some way – for vocations, formation, liturgy or leadership. [That’s the newest hat – being a member of the Council. I was actually “in charge” the other night in the absence of both the prioress and subprioress and didn’t realize it until a sister made the point. I suspect it will take some getting used to…for all of us.]

Although summer is far from over, here, in the monastery, we are gathering our energies for a new year. The first blessing of August has been the addition of a new member of our administrative staff. Mary C. Finnigan is our new Director of Operations & Human Resources. A friend to our community for years, Mary will now lend her considerable professional gifts to our ministries.

I’m busy, too. [smiling] Summer is a wonderful time to organize things a bit better. [I’m a “J” on the MBTI. Organization is key to my ability to be productive. OK…I still color-code my calendar with highlighters. It’s just so pretty!] Things are disappearing into the shredder. Office supplies are en route. A lovely woman who’s here for our “Real Time” vocation program is organizing our Formation Library. Agendas are nearly finished for the planning retreats still ahead of me this month. AND…after four years in Richmond, I’ve re-learned where all the dishes go, what constitutes "doing the tables", how to lead Midday Prayer and the voicemail numbers of all the internal offices. It’s all good – all part of being home and in the heart of our community life. Ora et labora – pray and work. That’s what I’ve been doing and what I hope to be doing for a very long time.

Blessings and love to you all…
Sister Vicki

PS - I missed haircuts because of travel so this is my shaggy self.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A poem...

There are things of which I am certain,
many I can’t begin to understand.
By grace,
the former take care of the latter
and I live in the land called, “faith.”

Vicki Ix, OSB

Monday, July 11, 2011

Happy Feast!

July 11th is the summer feast of Saint Benedict - Patriarch of Western Monasticism. This feast is observed by the universal Church. Benedictines everywhere keep holy the 21st of March - the death of our Holy Father Benedict. Today, every daily-Mass-going Catholic is hearing of our patron and celebrating the gift of monastic life to the Church. We have a special horarium today in his honor: 9 AM Morning Prayer (sweet!), 11:30 Eucharist w/ festive meal following at 12:15. Around the world Benedictines observe this feast in a variety of ways. Some claim this day for professions and jubilees. If you know and love a Benedictine, today would be a great day to send them a greeting or offer a prayer for their perseverance in monastic life. As we pray and feast here in Bristow, know that our sisters on mission, our oblates, friends and benefactors are all held in grateful prayer.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Sunday, July 3, 2011

It's like this...

We have three community options for vacation: mountains, ocean or river!

Five sisters will attend the Monastic Worship Forum, St. Meinrad, IN, July 12-18.

Sister Kathleen and Karen Lynn are at BSWR, Cullman, Al, for three weeks!

Summer in the monastery is a different season entirely! From Community Retreat in June through the dog days of August, we pray intensely, travel for meetings, conferences and monastery planning and, eventually, take a week of much-needed VACATION! I have been “off the grid” now for two weeks because of silent retreat and The Monastic Institute conference in MN. This morning, after brunch, “Week #1” goes to Nags Head, NC for a week of rest and play. (I’ve never been in “Week #1” before nor have I ever needed it as badly!)

Summer is strange because so many sisters must come and go throughout. Our choir is diminished in size but not in heart. It is for this reason that no vocation programming happens until August. The house is just too weird in July! As each group goes and comes home – for whatever reason – the rest of the community prays for safe return. Being gone just one week can seriously reinforce a vocation. Hugs and kisses abound and we are always told how much we are missed. Everything thing we learn in summer study or meetings will be shared with everyone at the October Chapter. And, practically, the community never fails to be blessed as we each get a week at the beach. We return refreshed, rested and five pounds heavier (OK, that would be me). As each one returns to wholeness and inner balance, we are all blessed. Summer in the monastery is unusual – especially as you consider our promise of stability. Yet, it is a season of grace. When autumn comes we will be very glad to return to “normal” but the gifts of summer travel and rest will see us through another year in the life. Monastics on a journey – winter, spring, summer, fall - together unto everlasting life (RB 72:12).

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The memory of grace...

We’re on I94 East heading toward the Twin Cities. The Monastic Institute, sponsored by Saint John’s School of Theology – Seminary, is over. And now we’re six nuns in the minivan again for the two-day drive home. The blessings of this week are two numerous for a blog. Many unimagined will surface in time as we unpack the experience in the days ahead. From a communal perspective our learnings are manifold and we will share the wisdom at Chapter in October. From a formation perspective I think the trip has been gift for Sisters Mary, Pat and Doris. The Benedictine world gets a lot smaller when you attend a conference like this one. Old friends, new friends, ammas and abbas – it’s all good.

It’s been about a year and a half since my last visit to Collegeville, MN. Every return brings a flood of memories – images, people, and moments from my days in graduate school. In the fall of 1999 I left my life in NJ for full-time study at St. John’s. So long ago…such a lonely time but a time of great grace. It was in the midst of two monastic communities (St. John’s & St. Ben’s) that I accepted the gift of a Benedictine vocation. It was a very long three years of study, but worth it in the end. I loved the learning even though I felt homesick for Bristow. I spent almost every break in VA and returned to MN only because I knew it was the right thing to do. Now, when I return to St. John’s, my heart swells with deep gratitude. When I greet so many sisters by name I am struck by the depth of my affection for them. All my wailing and gnashing of teeth ten years ago has been replaced with awe at God’s loving plan for me. This place, these good monks and nuns, are all part of my salvation history. Funny, how places become part of us. Places that change us or that create the condition of possibility for our changing – they hold the memory of grace at work in our lives. They testify to the Potter’s hands on the clay – proof that God is intimately involved in our journey and determined to bless our lives with peace.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

SJU SOT-Sem '02

Friday, June 24, 2011

A very happy day...

This evening Sister Cecilia Dwyer was installed as prioress – her sixth term! In a private ceremony (our custom if the prioress is continuing service) we asked God to bless her with wisdom, strength and every grace needed to be Christ in our midst. Elected for the first time in 1987, Sister Cecilia served three consecutive four-year terms. Then, ineligible canonically after 12 years in office, she enjoyed a sabbatical year at St. John’s School of Theology – Seminary and then served three years as Vocation Director until her reelection in 2003. Please join us in thanking God for the gift of Sister Cecilia’s leadership and her willingness to serve time and time again. The new monastic council (sisters elected and appointed to advise and support the prioress) was blessed after the installation rite. Council members beginning service are Sister Lisbeth Cruz, Sister Veronica Joyner, Sister Lisbeth Cruz, Sister Vicki Ix and Sister Glenna Smith.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Now I know why...

Now I know why Jesus loved the little children. Yes, parts hurt that I never knew I had, but the marathon is over and I am left to contemplate the blessings. Spending five days with 12 little girls forced me to remain in the present moment – ok, barely two steps ahead of them. But, inside, I had the feeling that they were my only work and in them, the Christ was in our midst. When they sang to us, I think the angels stopped to listen. When they prayed, their desires were pure like rain water. And, when they danced at Evening Prayer, we were moved by the reverence of little bare feet moving in a graceful circle. In them I got a glimpse of the purity of heart we long for as adults. I saw the child I was and long to be again. “WONDER WEEK” was BIG fun, physically exhausting and a time of grace. These 12 little girls will remain in our hearts and in our prayers until next summer. Now I know Jesus loved the little children. "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Mark 10:14)”

Our annual silent retreat begins today. Next blog from the Monastic Institute at St. John's next week. Blesings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Wonder Week"...


This is day #2 of a 5-day program called, "Wonder Week." We sponsor this day-program for girls ages 10-13 who want to experience the workings of the monastery - and have BIG fun! I am director of"WW", so expect to hear very little from me until the weekend. It's 12 girls, 2 counselors and the old girl until Saturday morning. Oh, I forgot to mention the slumber party Friday night. The Subiaco Room becomes a rec room - Karaoke, movies, sleeping bags everywhere, and a "campfire" made of Lava Lamps. Yup. So keep us in prayer. All I ever ask of God this week is to keep the children in our care safe and sound. I am grateful for your spiritual support. When it's over I have a date with a tube of Ben Gay.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Between here and there...

In the days between the Ascension and Pentecost, the scriptures invite us into the intimate space between Father and Son. The “farewell discourse”, John 14-17, reveals Jesus’ hopes and dreams for his friends. Conscious that his time among them in the flesh is coming to an end, Jesus prays for the disciples – and for us. This prayer reveals the depth of his faith and gives us a glimpse of the mysterious unity within the Godhead. “May they be one as we are one.” In this long, sometimes meandering prayer, we can learn the meaning of real obedience. “I glorified you on earth,” Jesus says, “by accomplishing the work you gave me to do.” It’s that simple. You and I – unique persons by God’s design – have something to do here – something that nudges the kingdom toward fullness. Only we can do this thing. And in that comes true peace and deep joy.

I love being inside Jesus’ head. I love hearing what was on his heart. I even love that he kind of rambles. (I stop myself every now and then from assaulting God with my words.) But his words are all blessing. His words assure us that we are precious to him. “Father, they are your gift to me.” I suspect most people don’t feel like God’s gift to Jesus. How wonderful to hear him say those words!

Another comfort in the “farewell discourse” is Jesus’ experience of transition. He is still with them but keenly aware that he will be returning to the Father. It is a liminal moment – one foot on earth and a soul longing for heaven. Grace comes when we are on the threshold of something new and wondrous. If you’ve ever sat with a dying friend, you know what I mean. Grace makes us aware that God is nearer than flesh on our bone. Grace comes and carries us over. Grace – Love – beckons us home.

In Jesus’ farewell prayer we learn that we are designed with purpose, gift to Jesus and on our way home.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Five sisters celebrate...

Left to right: Sister Henry Marie, Sister Mary Patricia, Sister Anne Marie, Sister Miki
Seated at right: Sister Anita

The profession formulas of five Benedictine women were placed on our altar - again. Between them, two-hundred and sixty years of fidelity to the monastic way of life. Our Gathering Space was filled with gifts and flowers from friends, family and sisters - small tokens of love and gratitude for staying on the path of God's commandments. Each sister raised her hands three times offering her life to God as she did on the day of her perpetual profession. Together they sang the ancient words: Receive me, O God, as you have promised that I may life. Do not disappoint me in my hope.

Flowers, festive dress and glorious music marked the day as sacred. My promises are still so was gift to see that the life brings each of us to wisdom and holiness inasmuch as we are willing to accept the graces along the way. Whether 25, 50, 60 or 75 years, these five women of faith have in common an ever-deepening hunger for God and a determination reach the goal of eternal joy. Joyful tears, a bit of laughter and deep awe - these were the gifts blessed and broken. Sorrows remembered and empty places acknowledged - the cup taken and shared. In each one of us is all of us. When we celebrate jubilee, we remember that God is with us and walks each of us into a future of blessing.

Sister Anita Sherwood, OSB, made her profession 75 years ago! We were so happy that she was able to enjoy her special day. We welcomed over 200 to our table. Among our guests and sisters were 14 graduates of Saint Gertrude High School - our private secondary school for young women in Richmond. They gathered around Sister Anita who was principal to nearly all of them!

Family and good friends were the best gift of all for our five jubilarians. Remarking on her 75 years of professed monastic life, Sister Anita was heard saying, "I think I'll stay."

More photos on Facebook so be my "friend."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A feast hits home...

Today is the Feast of the Visitation. Mary goes to stay with her cousin, Elizabeth who is also with child. God has done something wondrous and impossible for both women. Elizabeth has conceived in old age and Mary has conceived the Savior by the power of the Holy Spirit. Both women have been given the grace and strength to do something great for God. Though their time together was brief – just three months – it was significant in reinforcing for each of them the power of God’s promises.

Earlier today at Morning Prayer, it was my turn to give the reflection as part of our shared Lectio Divina. Although this story seems easy to explore from a theological perspective, today it felt very personal. I am leaving our Richmond mission tomorrow and returning to the monastery. This “visit” lasted four years - the first three before the accident and the last 10 months in its wake. I have very mixed feelings, which is not unlike me. I feel joy at the prospect of “home” – of returning to the place where my heart first heard the whisper of God’s voice. I am looking forward to the everyday blessings of the life – cooking, dishes, choir practice and a lifetime of Sundays. Yet, I am leaving this house aware of God’s unique presence here in my sisters.

The common life is intense among three women (instead of 30). There are challenges, to be sure, but so many blessings. This last year, in particular, has been total gift. Sister Mary joined me here early on in difficult days and then came to stay. She continues to be our presence at SGHS. I am so touched by her love for our school. Being here to welcome Sister Charlotte home has meant the world to me. We were friends before the accident. Now, having shared in her recovery, we have a bond that can’t be explained or denied. Love is a mystery and a gift – whenever, however it comes. I will miss sharing life with her and with Sister Mary. Each group of sisters in the convent here is a unique configuration of souls and personalities. In a few months Sister Kathleen will arrive and the sisters here will make a new bond of interdependence and care. It’s what we do – it’s how Benedictine community is lived out in the faithfulness of each woman to The Rule and to the Gospel.

Today, I pack the "office" and take care of some house business. Sister Charlotte will take over as House Coordinator – BIG relief for me and a wonderful gift to the sisters here. I know I will still chew on the gospel for today – still wonder at the friendship of Elizabeth and Mary. Intergenerational and faith-based, their love for one another was a reflection of God’s love for them. Great grace and joy came in their meeting and I know God blessed them both in their parting. Today, I pray a blessing on this little house of God and on the sisters who have been community for me. I will return as often as I can to support our school and its mission. And, when I need to stay the night, I know I will always have a place in this house. In his daily reflection John F. Wallenhorst gives poetic shape to the Magnificat. This small part feels like the song in my heart.

Love moves the mighty from their thrones and promotes the insecure,
Love leaves hungry spirits satisfied; the rich seem suddenly poor.
Praise God, whose loving covenant caresses those in distress,
remembering promises made long ago with present, loving faithfulness.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki
Original oil painting by Austin artist James B. Janknegt

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What they got right...

Last weekend the Second Coming had more visibility than the Good Year blimp over the Super Bowl. Like most of the world, I found the countdown to the end of the world very interesting. Good people were caught up in an apocalyptic movement and driven to save as many souls as possible before the “event.” I found it strange that people who clearly love Jesus had not integrated all of his teachings: “Only my Father in heaven knows the day and the hour.” I found it sad that many believed the window of salvation was closing. In the days after the predicted end, some were just dazed and confused. Others reconfigured the message assuring us that some opportunity for salvation had come and gone. Still more went home physically exhausted from the mission. It was more than easy to make fun of them. Talk show hosts and evening news personalities had much to say as the clock moved successfully into a new day. There was so much in the message that felt wrong. But, I want to raise up one thing these “doomsday” Christians got right. God wants every soul to come to faith.

All created souls belong to God. We get lost in earthly life. We forget where we came from or lose sight of where we are going. God sent Jesus to share our journey and assure us that God’s love is stronger than death. We are redeemed. We need only to recognize it, embrace it, claim it and live in risen love. No one knows when Christ will come again. But he will. And it will be a great day. All people will know that he is the way, the truth and the life. For now we remain in his love – like branches clinging to the vine. And we live unafraid, filled with Easter peace. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” And we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"What can you do?"

In this morning’s gospel, the people ask Jesus an interesting question: “What can you do?” I found myself smiling. Poor Jesus lived in an age of great teachers and magicians. They all had wisdom for sale and even a few tricks or “signs” that bolstered belief. The people didn’t understand who they had in their midst. You and I get to read the gospel backwards – through the lens of the resurrection. We know and believe. We want to tell them, “Wake up! He’s the one!” But their question is all too human and there are times in every life that we ask the Lord, “What can you do?” There are times when our prayers feel unanswered – when we wonder why GOD doesn’t act. People die, natural disasters occur, acts of evil and violence continue – we want a sign that GOD is still GOD. When the people threw GOD’s gift of manna in Jesus’ face, hoping it would encourage him to work a miracle; Jesus – the Word made flesh – chose to give them the truth instead. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Many heard it and but only some believed it in their hearts. This one sentence is more powerful than any wonder. The truth contained is so deep it is nearly beyond our comprehension. Jesus is the true bread sent from heaven – he is all that we need to sustain us on the human sojourn. In his dying he freely gave his body – literally – the supreme act of surrender and solidarity with we who must one day walk that path. In his rising Jesus freed us from the fear of death. It will not have the last word. It is not the enemy. It is a gateway – a portal to joy in GOD’s presence. The Lord’s self-emptying love is the love of the Father – a love that gives all, that heals all, that rights all. It is a love we can touch and taste and savor in the Eucharist – the bread given us by the One who wants to be with us here and now. Whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim his death – the death which released us from its power – until he comes again in glory. “What can you do?” Oh, how I hope all the world will come to know what the Lord Jesus has done and can do in every human heart.

Easter peace and risen love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

ART: Resurrection, St Paul de Meythet Church, by Arcabas (Jean-Marie Pirot), 1998

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What resurrection looks like...

Sunday, May 1st, marked eight months since “the accident.” Although this event affected three of my sisters irrevocably, I’ve been thinking about how we as community have also been changed. In some ways it feels like it was yesterday and in other ways like a very bad dream. “For then you shall forget your misery, or recall it like waters that have ebbed away. (Job 11:16).”

Because I have the privilege of sharing life with Sister Charlotte in Richmond, I am keenly aware of her physical and spiritual transformation. Sister is working four days a week at Bon Secours, St. Mary’s Hospital. Having been on the receiving end of “good help” in the ICU and step-down unit there, Sister Charlotte is able to walk with the sick and suffering in a new way. She is, for me, an icon of the resurrection – a glimpse of God’s grace at work in the hearts of all who prayed her back to life. Sister Charlotte’s courage in recovery and determination to find the blessings in this tragedy make her an exceptional woman of faith – in the world and in my life.

Sister Connie Ruth has made wonderful strides, literally - from wheelchair to cane and from our monastery Infirmary back to her own room. Throughout these months of recovery, she has been grateful for every kindness shown by nurses and sisters alike. Sister Connie Ruth beams when she talks of her time in Richmond – both at our high school and at the convent. Sister made new friends wherever she went in the city – most especially at Zacharias Ganey Health Institute. Although Sister Connie Ruth will not be returning to the mission house, she is serving the monastic community – contributing to the daily labor as her recovery permits.

This past Easter has new meaning for us as a community and certainly for the two sisters who have tasted new life. We are living in gratitude for the love and prayers of so many. We are able to lend our love and prayers to those who suffer now. Our hearts are with the people of Alabama who have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods to tornadoes this past week. We are tethered by prayer to the Benedictine sisters there at Sacred Heart Monastery as they continue to live without power or light – even as they reach out to those around them who have been devastated. We pray to God for the victims of war – the innocent and the guilty. Lament and psalms of confidence are sung side by side. The cross and open grave herald the new order in which we are all bound together in Christ – one Body, though many parts. In the "Great 50 Days" of Easter joy, let us all be peace and risen love for one another. Let us live now what will be ours for eternity. “Then your life shall be brighter than the noonday; its gloom shall become as the morning, and you shall be secure, because there is hope (Job 11:17-18a).”

- Sister Vicki

Monday, April 25, 2011

The graces of Triduum...

The graces of Triduum often surprise me. Ever-ancient, ever-new, this seamless liturgy takes three days to complete. Like the Christians of the fourth century, we remember and enact anew the mystery of our salvation. This means that something is accomplished in us as we do this important work of praise and thanksgiving. Somehow, this memorial increases the measure of God’s grace at work in us – draws us more deeply into the reality of the risen Christ among us. It’s very hard to put words around this truth. Because we are still bound to bodies, there is a veil that separates us from the fullness of God. Yet, through these powerful rites we encounter the living God in moments – flashes of insight.

This year, perhaps because of the events of last August, our community seemed very in touch with the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice and the grief of those who loved Him so. It was good to be silent, as the prophet says in the Lamentations. The silence we shared had character and depth. It wasn’t empty silence. It was like diving deep in the ocean – separated so that we could breath – but together. When the great silence ended Saturday evening, we were ready to speak again, but I had the longing – even yet – for what could be shared in the absence of words.

As we gathered at the New Fire, the gathering joy overflowed in song: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega; his are the seasons and the ages: to him glory and dominion through endless ages. Amen. By his wounds holy and glorious, may he guard and preserve us. Christ, the Lord, Amen!” Then, Sister Andrea sang the Exultet – the ancient hymn/story of the Easter mystery. “This is the night...” Sister is the only one among us who can do justice to the beauty of this chant. The glow of candlelight in the faces of women I love only added to the richness of the moment.

On Easter Sunday morning, we were sleepy from the late night Vigil, but energized by the astounding beauty of the Chapel in daylight. Sister Laurence, Sister Mary and several dear friends transformed the sanctuary into a flowering garden. We will immerse ourselves in this beauty for 50 days. It is our taste of paradise – the Eden reclaimed for us by Christ.

Easter Blessings and risen love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Into Great Silence...

Well, the house is full of activity: the schola is singing, the sacristans are laying out vessels and linens, the liturgists are "encouraging" everyone to sign up for a ministry. The last day before the Paschal Triduum is always holy chaos. If you've never seen 20 women turn a dining room into a banquet hall, it's quite a complex ballet of action and reaction. "This table has no napkins." "How many chairs at Table 5?" "All the wine glasses on each table should match." "Let's start moving tables." "Where does the water glass go?" Fresh flowers, new candles, good wine and white linen tablecloths - we pull out all the stops for this festive meal. And, after we dirty every single dish in the house, we all pitch in and clean until is finished.

The moment we leave the Dining Room, the Great Silence begins. We keep silence from Thursday Evening until Saturday night - no talking, no bells, no phone calls. It feels right to keep silence before the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection. And, on Saturday night, if will feel right to ring all the bells and sing the one word we have held in the custody of our hearts. (You know, the "A" word!) So, dear friends and oblates, I am signing off to live the "three days" with my sisters. You can expect some photos sometime on Easter Monday. May the richness of the liturgy touch your soul and bring you closer to the God who gave us Jesus.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Monday, April 18, 2011

Last stop, Bethany...

Today’s gospel sets the stage for Holy Week. John tells us that six days before the Passover, Jesus returned to Bethany – home of his dear friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, who was the Lord’s greatest miracle so far. “They gave a dinner for him there (John 12:2).” Some dinner that must have been! How could Lazarus not view his friend differently after what happened at the tomb? Surely, nothing was beyond the rabbi’s power to redeem – not sickness, not sin, not even death. What did Lazarus share with Jesus about the experience of death? Did Jesus want to know what lay ahead of him in Jerusalem? Were the events before and ahead too much for words? Perhaps, they drank wine together and talked of nothing, as only real friends can?

What about the sisters? Martha, we’re told, is preparing the meal. No grumbling this time – a sure and certain sign of the reign of God breaking through! And Mary – dear, Mary – she is again at the Lord’s feet but this time she is anointing them with expensive perfumed oil. In this tender act she anticipates both his kingship and impending death. It is six days before the Passover. He is going to Jerusalem – a city renowned for killing its prophets. This dinner is the last they will share with him at their home in Bethany. Many have suggested that Jesus’ friends in Bethany were his respite from the road – his resting place when the unrelenting preaching and healing sapped his strength. What better place to dine before the journey? What better company than those who just loved him? A few moments of rest…some home-cooking…some laughter among friends – surely, one night of peace is not too much to ask. Yet, poor Judas had to pick a fight with Mary over the expensive oil – his greed not benevolence operative in the exchange. Poor Judas…he, too, will have the worst week of his life.

There is so much in this tiny gospel that points to the holy days ahead. If Martha, Mary and Lazarus knew what we know, they would never have let Jesus go. Or maybe, they did know and that’s why this meal was so important to all of them – so important that no expense was spared, no pettiness allowed to displace the simple goodness of being with him. May this Holy Week bring all of us to the house at Bethany – the house where Love has come and nothing else matters.

Blessngs and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A poem...

I’ve been quiet inside -

no words for the mystery.

When death comes suddenly

God comes close –

so close

that grief and grace get tangled,

loss and love are one.

I’ve been standing still in the desert –

sandals in hand

before the flame that will not consume.

I know God is here

comforting widow and orphan.

I've been praying at a tomb

knowing my brother lives.

New plans now

for an unexpected future.

I know God is here.

because Jesus wept.

Sister Vicki Ix, OSB

Saturday, April 2, 2011

We have an election!

Sister Cecilia Dwyer, OSB, has been re-elected by the Chapter for another four-year term as prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia. Sister Susan Quaintance, OSB of St. Scholastica Monastery, Chicago and Sister Roberta Campbell, OSB, of Mount St. Mary’s Monastery, Pittsburgh, PA facilitated the election. Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie, OSB, First Councilor of the Federation of St. Scholastica, presided and witnessed the canonical election. Sister Cecilia served as prioress from 1987-1999 and then again from 2003 – present. Her sixth term in office will begin in June. The community is overwhelmed with joy and grateful for Sister’s willingness to serve again as our prioress. We thank you, friends, Benedictine sisters and Oblates, for your prayers through these sacred days. It is only through prayer that we are able to "listen with the ear of our heart (RB Prol.1)."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

BIG weekend ahead...

Evening Prayer on Thursday evening marks our entrance into the sacred space of election. Every four years we gather for a long weekend of prayer, discernment and group process that leads us to the election of a new prioress. Sister Cecilia Dwyer has been our prioress for two consecutive terms (8 years). She may, according to the Constitution of the Federation of St. Scholastica, be elected for a third term. (I call that hitting a triple!) We have always been blessed with wonderful leadership. I have no doubt that when the Holy Spirit begins her dance in our midst, we will be moved to elect just the right woman for the next four years.

We have been praying already – a nine-day novena in preparation for these holy days. Unlike the “real” world, there is no campaigning – no t-shirts, bumper stickers or buttons for our favorite “candidate.” No, this prayerful enterprise is dependent on God’s grace and the skillful facilitation of our election process. As is our custom, two sisters from within our Federation were invited to guide us through these days – Sister Susan Quaintance, OSB, from Chicago and Sister Roberta Campbell, OSB from Pittsburgh, PA. Normally, the President of the Federation witnesses the election, but since she happens to be one of us, she cannot. In Sister Glenna’s place the First Councilor of the Federation, Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie, OSB of Cullman, AL, will represent the Federation in our process. (You might remember Sister Lynn Marie from our Visitation process last October.) On the home front our Election Committee – appointed by the current prioress – has things well in hand. Sister Andrea, Sister Lisbeth and Sister Veronica have planned for these days months in advance and enabled the community to communicate our hopes to the facilitators as well as our new plan for the next four years. This plan, in essence, becomes the new prioress’ “job description.” Although having the right skill set is a plus, it is not the main determinant for election. For that we go to the The Rule.

Saint Benedict clearly states what is most important: Goodness of life and wisdom in teaching must be the criteria for choosing the one to be made prioress, even if she is the last in community rank (RB 64:2). And in chapter 2 the spiritual weight of the office is made clear. She is believed to take the place of Christ in the monastery (RB 2:2). So, dear friends and Oblates, please hold us in prayer this weekend. After the “white smoke” there will be news here on our blog and on Facebook. Stay tuned…and ask God to bless the one who will say “yes” to this great ministry.

Blessings and love to you all…

- Sister Vicki

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Lovely Incongruity...

It’s Lent and the birds are singing their hearts out. It’s Lent and the Hyacinth are in bloom – lilac, blue and white. It’s Lent and the trees in Richmond are flowering with fat buds of pink and white. It would seem the earth is out of sync with the liturgical season – arriving early at the promises of Easter. I don’t feel the cold starkness of the desert. I can’t feel anything but the warmth of the sun piercing the the memory of winter. Is this some cosmic mistake? Is it some twist of global warming ruining God’s plan? I don’t think so. The beauty of God’s creation is always gift. In fact, in her Ash Wednesday exhortation, our prioress urged us all to find comfort in the beauty of nature. In a year of great loss and unrelenting presence to one another in our grief and in our healing, Sister Cecilia wants each of us to find some comfort in these desert days. So, I am sitting on our back deck enjoying the rays of a nearly-too-hot sun. I am listening to those birds sing their prayers and smelling the first sweetness of spring.

Sister’s message may seem counter-intuitive against a lifetime of Lents. It is, however, in harmony with our paradoxical faith. The resurrection is a "done deal." By His passion death and rising to new life, the Lord Jesus has freed us from the fear of death. Still, every year, we wait for it to come anew – for the Paschal Mystery to take deeper root in our lives as we await the joy of yet another Easter morning. We are capable of living Lent and, at the same time, know that we are already redeemed. The joy and peace I am feeling in my heart this morning is but a taste of Easter joy – a microscopic hint of the eternal joy that awaits all who believe in Christ. I accept the gift of this joy and offer it as a sign that He is risen. If that wondrous truth comes to us before the great Triduum, we must receive it and give thanks.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Clean Heart...

I went to Mass with our girls this morning. Nearly 250 students marched from Saint Gertrude High School to nearby St. Benedict’s Church to celebrate the beginning of Holy Lent. Another 250 cadets from Benedictine High School marched in and sat across the aisle from our young women. The two schools nearly fill every pew! I found a seat in the back with staff and some local families.

Though all of the readings today are powerful, I was struck by the responsorial psalm: “Create in me a clean heart.” What does that mean? My heart didn’t feel “dirty” this morning. My heart was joyful at the prospect of these forty days. I must need a clean heart, or we wouldn’t sing those words on this sacred day. As I was trying to chew on this, I couldn’t help noticing the toddlers and babies in the pews around me. There was a little boy next to me for whispered to his mother, “I don’t want to go to school. I want it to be Saturday. And I want to go to a birthday party and have birthday cake.” I couldn’t help but smile at his mother and share her giggle. In front of me, there was a tiny infant – maybe, three or four months old – in a baby-bucket. He woke up somewhere around the Gospel and his little yawns were absolutely precious. His big brother had a container of pretzels and that seemed to help him focus on Father’s homily. A few pews ahead another baby was grinning at all of us – like it was Christmas.

Children have clean hearts. They are perfectly transparent and without guile. They say what they mean and allow every feeling to surface. Little ones don’t miss much. They are very sensitive to what goes on around them. They show affection freely and ask for what they need. They haven’t made any serious mistakes yet. They haven’t wounded the people they love or disappointed Mom and Dad. They are fully alive and carry in their faces the child Jesus for all to see. On this first day of this holy season, I know exactly what I want. I want a clean heart – a child-like heart. The ashes on my forehead remind me that I have a ways to go, but filled with the graces of Word and wheat, I feel excited about this Lenten journey. And ready for GOD to create in me a clean heart – a heart that loves more faithfully, lives more joyfully and gives all without reserve.
Blessings and love to you all…and Happy Lent!

- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My first "community"...

It is an error, some believe, to say that a monastic community is “a family.” I agree. After all, the monastery is comprised of adults who choose to live under a rule and a prioress in perfect freedom. They are not children nor is the prioress their mother. She takes the place of Christ in a household that belongs to God. Her spiritual leadership is ultimate in the life of the monastic woman, but it is a relationship grounded in a specific period of time and made transcendent by the grace of office. We are not a family bound by blood, birth order and common parentage. We are mature women choosing to rely on grace and one another in our common search for God.

That said, I have to say something about family – my family. I just spent one week in Charleston, SC with my Dad, my siblings and their children. Though my week of “family visit” is over, the graces of those days are very present to me. The long drive home from Charleston to Richmond on Monday was like a retreat day – 7 ½ hours to mull over the little faces and the amazing adults who have become my friends. I expect to revisit those days in my heart many times over until the months pass and we are together again. Here’s what I think this morning:

Although monastic community is NOT a family, it can be said that our earliest experiences of being in a family have much to do with the way we approach our new life in monastic community. To the degree that we were loved, we learned to love. That love, for most of us, became our first taste of God’s love. I have decided that everything in my childhood belongs in my salvation story. No parent is perfect. No child grows without making mistakes. We wound and are wounded. We fail, our parents fail and somehow, we come out the other side the person we are in the world. Father Richard Rohr, OFM, would say, “Everything belongs.” (It’s one of my favorite books!)

I am overwhelmed, still, by the love I was given by my parents. It is a love that courses through veil of eternity and through my Father’s flesh and bone. It was enough to show me the face of a loving God. I am in awe of my brother and sisters. From the rivalry and misunderstandings of childhood, we have arrived at mutual respect – a love that acknowledges common hurts and remembered joys. We share the precious memory of a time lost to us in adulthood. We remember…and that is truly a gift. We knew each other from our Mother’s womb and became unique individuals within safety of belonging to something much bigger – a family. My brother and sisters are parents now of children between the ages of 3 and 9. My seven nieces and nephews are loved. They all know that God exists and holds them in tender care. Watching them I see their parents and our parents all mixed together. I see a miraculous web of faithful love that continues one generation to the next. I see the face of God in the gift of the family. My family was my first “community.” In our struggles and in our blessings I am who I am. By God’s grace and wisdom of the Holy Rule, I am still becoming who God wants me to be. For this, and for so much more, I am truly grateful.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki