Tuesday, February 26, 2008

First in Lenten Contemplative Studies Series

Daily Living

(The following is an excerpt of remarks presented in the first of our Lenten Series. We were delighted that thirty-five people chose to join us, many coming into our monastery for the first time. The group ended their time with us by joining the community in singing Night Prayer, the Office of Compline.)

Judging from the titles one finds on the shelves of books stores these days, it is plain to see that contemplative living has become as cosy an idea as "Martha Stewart living." Titles indicate that living life contemplatively is not just for official contemplative nuns or monks; that contemplative emphasis can benefit all; that it is a healthier way physically, psychologically as well as spiritually. What would that look like in the life of an ordinary person?

A contemplative life is lived: prayerfully, simply, consciously, and faithfully.

Any observation of contemplative monastic life will find immediate focus in the life of prayer. It is so ideal to have you share in our communal prayer at the end of this presentation. In a way, you do not really experience a monastery unless you attend a time of communal prayer. Those who spend time with us express in a myriad of ways how prayerful the place is. And the communal prayer supports individual lives of attentive prayer. We ARE invited to spend enough time in private prayer, contemplation or meditation to anchor our lives in the power beyond us.

To live simply – here I have to tell you a bit of my story. Over the years, to defend myself from the incursions of three growing sons I made my bedroom at home into my little kingdom complete with TV, VCR, radio, tape and CD player, computer, sewing machine and, of course, a telephone. My feet would hit the floor in the morning and at least one, if not two, of these devices would be turned on. I cooked while talking on the phone; never worked without media accompaniment of some kind. About two years before I entered I began my shift into the contemplative way by not turning on the car radio for the drive to work. Big sacrifice! A year before I entered I began to do my morning routine at home in silence. That was a big change and you may not want to go there but I share it because I was as addicted to it as anyone else. But the truth is to live simply we have to say “no” more often so that we are not constantly bombarded and shaken from our efforts toward interior contemplation. And we may also consider that it is necessary to live simply in order that others may simply live. It seems to me that this is where “the rubber hits the road” when we speak of ministry to the most needy and abandoned. Can we in some ways, even though they be small ways, put our money where our mouth is. This may mean re-examining our charitable giving or reconsidering what we might do to benefit others in our spare time. It might mean making a renewed effort to repair, re-use or recycle the stuff we take for granted or accumulate. I might mean asking questions like: Am I making right use of our water resources? Do I need to buy the next big thing?

Such considerations lead us to another feature of the contemplative orientation. To live consciously is to be fully present, fully aware. We may not need to change anything we do but it is valuable to ask ourselves occasionally, “Why am I doing this?” “Why do I come here; why do I buy these things; why do I spend time with these people or doing these things; why do I vote the way I do?”

To live consciously also implies being AWAKE. Did you ever find yourself talking to someone and suddenly realize that they had zoned out, left you and gone off to some other world, giving you the impression that they were no longer listening? Knowing that feeling when others tune us out we have to ask ourselves, “Who is it that I may not be paying attention to, listening to, being present to?” Could it be your spouse, your child (small or grown up), your friend of many years, your newly widowed elderly neighbor, the person sitting nearby at Mass, the hungry or homeless who flock to Catholic Charities and Family of Woodstock, the starving people of Sudan? I don’t know. But I do know that I tune people out all the time. A contemplative stance requires that I be present and accounted for.

Another aspect of living consciously is to be awake to our surroundings. God can speak to us in the beauty, wonders, and awesomeness of nature. Fr. Bede Griffiths, an English Benedictine monk who became famous as one of the first Christians in history to look with deep respect and genuine spiritual curiosity at the great religions of the East, eventually formed a Benedictine ashram community in India. He recorded this little description of his earliest “religious” experience. As a young teen he was walking near his school playing fields on a summer evening.

A lark rose suddenly from the ground beside the tree where
I was standing and poured out its song above my head, and then sank still
singing to rest. Everything then grew still as the sunset faded and the
veil of dusk began to cover the earth. I remember now the feeling of
awe which came over me. I felt inclined to kneel on the ground, as
though I had been standing in the presence of an angel.
(The Golden String:An Autobiography 9)

Can we allow ourselves the kind of time necessary to experience such things? Can we stop and smell the roses? Sabbath is another name for stopping to smell the roses. Judith Shulevitz is a Jew who decided to re-appropriate the Sabbath of Orthodox Judaism. In her NY Times article “Bring Back the Sabbath – Why Even the Secular Need a Ritualized Day of Rest” she wrote, “Interrupting our ceaseless striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will…We have to remember to stop because we have to stop to remember.” Sabbath time restores balance to our lives, the balance between action and rest, the exterior and the interior life, conversation and silence. Any monastic horarium, the schedule of the day, is very balanced. When I entered, complete with my body clock set to the demands of life as a working laywoman I found the schedule difficult to adjust to. I mean – rest and be quite from 1:30 to 3:30pm – that is the heart of the day! How will I get anything done? Soon I came to realize that I would be well advised to pray when the schedule said pray, work in the established work time, recreate when time was offered for that and rest when I was given the opportunity. It created a perfect balance.

The last of the over-riding principles on the contemplative way is to live faithfully. Each of you, I am sure, has lived out of your faith or beliefs about the meaning of life for a long time. And each of you, I am just as sure, has lived faithfully committed to a vow, an ideal, a work. So this is nothing new to you. This is the grace to persevere in the daily; to keep on keeping on. This may be the greatest challenge in any life. It must prevail over routine, boredom, disappointment, disenchantment. It may also be called upon to prevail over real agony, real physical, mental or emotional disability or a myriad of other extreme challenges to the stamina to persevere.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Moving Along with Technology

Sr. Margaret Banville, OSsR

Many busy days have kept me from posting here. A chunk of time has be devoted to educating myself about web sites, domain names, domain servers and navigating a trial download of web creation software. It is all for the cause but very time consuming.

In the meantime...this post begins a
Meet the Sisters Series
Allow me to introduce Sister Margaret (Peg) Banville, contemplative nun in
the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer

I was the token Canadian who came on the foundation to Esopus in 1957. I was Sr. Mary Gemma back then and I never expected to leave Toronto where I was born and raised. But God is full of surprises. I was born in 1925 and grew up during the depression. After high school I worked as a stenographer until my 18th birthday and then enlisted in the CWAC. Except for my basic training, the whole of my 2½ years as a soldier were spent as a stenographer in the Pay Office of the large Depot in Toronto - the only woman of a staff of fifty men! By the time I was discharged in 1946 I was a sergeant.

I surprised myself when I entered the convent in 1949. I received the first glimmer that I might have a vocation to religious life when I made my first retreat in 1947. During another retreat I had a dream that told me I must enter the Redemptoristines—a contemplative Order!!! With much fear and trembling, and with encouragement from friends, I entered and exactly one year later I received the red and blue habit. My profession of final vows was made at our new location in Barrie, Ontario, on January 23, 1954. Almost 4 years later, the convent was overflowing with new vocations and I became part of the group of 6 Sisters who made up the foundation of Esopus in 1957. A big surprise!

One of the wonderful surprises of my life was when I was also elected as our delegate for the second General Assembly of the Order in 1982. This took me to a beautiful setting on a mountain overlooking the Bay of Amalfi. In the two weeks we were there, the delegates did the final work on the process of revising our Constitutions – a process which began in 1966 as mandated by Vatican II. The new document incorporated many of the insights of our foundress, Ven. Maria Celeste Crostarosa.

Today, I am the oldest member of the community. My health is not so good any more, but I feel loved and respected by the community and can still serve in small ways. I thank God for calling me to be a Redemptoristine and I pray for the gift of final perseverance. In 2001 I celebrated my golden jubilee of profession—years in which I experienced many surprises.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What's Happening?

Studies Series

Redemptoristine Nuns
Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery

Route 9W, Esopus on the grounds of Mt. St.Alphonsus

Monday, February 25 - Contemplative Values for Everyday Living

Monday, March 3 - The Art of Contemplative Prayer

Monday, March 10 - To Pray Always – Contemplative Life into the 21st Century

Sessions will begin at 7pm each evening in our monastery. Input and discussion will be followed by Night Prayer with the community at 8:15pm. Please call to register for any or all of the sessions and for directions. 384-6533

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Lenten Invitation


An Invitation

to Accompany Jesus

Is Not Just for Contemplative Nuns

In Catholic culture Lent, it seems to me, has become less concerned with penitential practices and caveats and more a state of mind and heart. I am thinking of the old days (here I really date myself) when conversation in the gang of girls on my block at this time of year was concerned with who would get their ashes first and what you were going to give up for Lent. Would it be T.V. or candy, or maybe reading movie magazines.? Or would you be getting to Mass each day and Stations each week?

For sure this is an ancient girlhood memory. I am filled with gratitude that over the years the deeper spiritual call, the personal call of Jesus, for my companionship along the way to the Cross was expanded upon, drawn out and drawn into my soul.

In the monastery, where Jesus is always the focus, the emphasis at this time is placed on greater exclusivity and depth of relationship via compassionate lingering with the suffering Jesus; the Jesus who suffered in Jerusalem; the Jesus who suffers today in HIV-AIDS ridden Africa, in wartorn Iraq, in shanty towns all over the world and among the illegals and the homeless in our own country.

The lingering I am thinking of here calls to mind the last hours I spent with my dying friend only a few months ago. I just sat at her bedside as she went in and out of sleep. I held her hand and stroked her arm and smiled when she opened her eyes. It was the expression of love through silent presence. Just be with; just hold the hand; just observe, remember and appreciate; just be grateful; just love.

Here is a call for all of us. Be present to Jesus in all of the Psachal Mystery - in His life, death and resurrection. And be present to and conscious of all the people around us and the world in which we live. Jesus is in them all and in the midst of it all. Linger with Him.

Friday, February 01, 2008

A Day of Rededication to Mission

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Praying for the World with JOY in HOPE and in FAITH

Redemptoristine Nuns are a praying presence on six continents. In prayer and Liturgy, in the Eucharist and the Sacraments we speak words of love and praise and petition for all people. In the tradition of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, we remember in a special way the poorest of the poor and the most abandoned. We pray for an end to violence of all kinds, for all efforts on behalf of peace and justice, for the sick and the dying, the outcasts and the exiled. We pray for our Church and all her ministers, that they be Christ in the world.

In the tradition of our foundress, Maria Celeste Crostarosa, we pray to become that "living memory of Christ" for each other in our monastic communities and for our families, friends and benfactors and for those we meet in the ordinariness of life, at the doctor's office or the line at the supermarket.