In thinking of how I might begin this piece I was reminded of Garrison Keillor's opening line for his monologue on Prairie Home Companion: "It's been a beautiful week in Lake Woebegone." We began with the celebration of Fr. Tom Travers 50th jubilee of vows followed by Memorial Day with its memories of the fallen made all the more poignant by the current violence in Iraq and daily updates concerning the dead and wounded. That morning I chose to read the opening section of Chapter 44 of the Book of Sirach. I nearly lost it when I got to verse 9 - But of others there is no memory, for when they ceased, they ceased. And they are as though they had never lived... Thankfully the Chapter concludes with: Their bodies are peacefully laid away, but their name lives on and on. At gatherings their wisdom is retold, and the assembly proclaims their praise. Wednesday offered the precious opportunity for my monthly personal retreat day. My mother asks why I have such days since I live in a monastery. Aren't I in retreat all the time? Contemplative nuns, in addition to a daily commitment to prayer and meditation, must also be about the regular chores that sustain all domestic life and the life of any social organization. Like everyone else, we have to pay constant attention to maintaining the balance in our lives, a balance made ever more critical by our religious vocation and our vows. I am sure that those who are married have had to pay similar attention to this balance in their lives too. So the monthly retreat day is an effort to assure the balance in the midst of work assignments, daily chores, and a myriad of assorted tasks. How did I spend my day? Since the hazy, hot and humid variety of weather had not yet arrived I enjoyed two periods of time out doors allowing only the sounds of nature to enter into my solitude. Sometimes my hands were busy with knitting and sometimes I just marveled at God's creation of springtime's burst of energy and all the little creatures that make our place their home. There was a great deal of time devoted to finally assembling the memory album for my solemn profession of vows which took place over one year ago. Digital photography is great but.....you tend to take lots more pictures which then have to be previewed and edited and then printed out if one wants something to show folks that doesn't require the latest in technology. Contemplating the moments immortalized in the photos and lingering with the words of the ritual particularly those in the vow formula itself and the words pronounced at reception for the signs of profession allow one the time to say again, "My heart is ready, O Lord, my heart is ready to sing psalm to my Lord Jesus Christ. Hear, O lord, my prayer and let my cry ever come to you. Take me, O lord, into your keeping and do not disappoint the hopes I have placed in you..I am the handmaid of Christ therefore I glory in bearing the emblems of his love." Another precious opportunity to answer the question in this time and in this place, "Why are you here?" On Thursday we said the blessing for travelers and sent two of our sisters off; one to a long desired visit with family in Canada and the other, our prioress, to meet with superiors of other Redemptoristine communities in North America. Another sister embarked on her annual long retreat. She opted to say at home but her 'absence' from community events except mass will be noted. All will be missed.
Yesterday was the first Friday of the month. We had Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from Office of Readings to Midday Prayer as part of our day of recollection; the whole day in a totally
silent monastery and no conversation at table. But here is where the issue of balance comes in. It was my turn to cook that day so that was my morning.
Today is my birthday. I rose to find a place set especially for me at table in the refectory complete with fresh cut peonies from our garden. Mass was said for my intentions and we had a delicious lunch including some of my favorite dishes. Today I began the process of publicizing our Mother of Perpetual Help Novena, June 19-27th. News releases went out to the papers inviting the public to join us especially for the triduum of the last three days when Father Dennis Billy, CSsR, professor at the Academy Alphonsianum in Rome, will be celebrant and homilist. Following the Mass on the 27th, the feast itself, we have refreshments outdoors for all of our guests. Many look forward to these occasions as opportunities to share devotion to our Blessed Mother under this special title and to enjoy the company of the community.
At the end of this week I hope to attend a showing of the German documentary film "Into Great Silence" at a local theater. I have been very curious about this largely silent film about life in the Carthusian monastery of the Grande Chartreuse in France. Carthusian's enjoy the reputation of being the most rigorous form of contemplative cenobitic life in which most of the monk's day is spent in his hermitage 'cell'. There are a couple of books on my reading list about this way of life. So stay tuned for a review of the film.