I have been coming to Oldenburg Franciscan Center for about 5 years now. The first time I came, it was at the invitation of S. Olga to attend a workshop on “spiritual tasks” for our journey with God. I learned so much that weekend, and the experience was powerful enough that it broke loose something inside of me that wanted to be freed. So I came back, again and again, seeking that wholeness, that liberty.
So much happens in five years, as any of us might know. After several months of absence here, I returned last night to make a ‘silent retreat’ of my own. It was a brief visit – just a moment I stole for myself to repeat a journey I’ve taken many times here at Oldenburg – an evening walk through the Sisters’ cemetery under a starlit sky. I love the dark, peaceful expanse of the cemetery, so far from city lights, so warm with prayer, and so populous with stars at night.
It was pretty cold outside, so I didn’t stay out as long as I might have liked. But it was a nice night for a stroll in the cemetery, and for all the walks I have taken there, I found myself pausing to do something I had never done before. I sat in front of the large crucifix in the middle of the cemetery and quietly pondered the image. It struck me that I’ve carried many a prayer through this cemetery, whispering prayers under the stars. So much of my life has changed since the first time I did that… and yet, I have new doubts. So, sitting under the crucifix, I placed my lenten confession: I don’t know whether I’m finding my faith or losing it. Where am I with God?
I recognized all the life-giving graces that have come into my life since the first time I walked this cemetery under the night sky… it’s been an amazing journey, full of God’s presence. So I just prayed for the grace to know what I need now to calm and direct my uncertainties. What’s next?
And, oh, for a moment my blurry eyes worked a spiritual blessing – as it seemed Jesus leaned forward and his arms came down from where they were pinned to the cross. What a true and beautiful prayer – to feel like I could be there to help Jesus down from the cross – to imagine how exhausting and deathly it is to remain there.
Suddenly, I imagined myself walking up, letting his arms fall around me to finally come down off that cross. What it really said to me is that it’s time to come down from the cross. Jesus, and me. And I relaxed into a dream of comforting rest, with that role reversed. The crucifixion has passed. I’m coming off my self-imposed cross into the arms of a comforting Jesus. It is time for life after death.
As for the question of finding or losing my faith, that seemed so simply answered with a thought of John 12:24. “Unless a grain of wheat falls upon the ground and dies, it remains a single grain with no life.” Belief as I have known it may have died. But my faith hasn’t departed. It’s just sprouting up through a new seed, a new gift of God’s love and incarnation.
With new peace, my life continues forward – and with such gratitude for the presence and ministries of the Sisters in Oldenburg. What a gift they have to bring new life to others through the living of their Franciscan values and the sharing of that through Oldenburg Franciscan Center. Here I have truly learned: God is Good, God is Love, God Gives Life.
First Reading: 1Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Second Reading: Eph 5:8-14
Gospel: John 9:1-41
Imagine for a moment that you were born blind as is the central character in the Gospel reading for this week. Consider the following questions. How did you live day to day in blindness? Did you long to see? Who or what did you most want to lay eyes on? How have you viewed your parents for the legacy you have grown up with? Did you consciously or unconsciously adopt the cultural belief of attributing a child’s disability to parental sin? How did this affect your relationship with your parents? Did you experience loneliness, social isolation or dehumanizing feelings? Did you hide away from the world to avoid the challenges of daily living? Did you, or how did you envision your world differently if miraculously you did gain the ability to see?
As the gospel narrative proceeds Jesus enters your life. He transforms your world giving you sight for the very first time in your life. Good News to be sure? Imagine how grateful you must feel toward Jesus for such a wonderful and transforming gift? How do you see you life differently now? How are you living a transformed life? Before you can fully comprehend your new reality, Jesus, the one responsible for your “cure” is challenged for bringing sight to your life. And you find yourself drawn into the fray? You too are challenged and threatened as a result of your new vision. Would you too question the authenticity of your new and perhaps frightening world? Would you hide in the shadows? The gospel relates that you refuse to reject your new sight despite not completely understanding and are yourself rejected. Then Jesus returns to present you “follow up” questions to more fully open your understanding of his role in your responsibility for being given sight. Do you echo the blind man of the gospel responding: “I do believe, Lord.”
Lord God, giver of sight and insight, guide us toward embracing a vision that more clearly gives witness to our belief in your vision for our world. Help us to see beyond outward appearances seeing into the hearts of our sisters and brothers. Help us live in goodness, righteousness and truth with each other and our world so that works of God may be made visible.
Every month I get a little book called
. It is a gift subscription from a friend. At the beginning of the booklet there is always a short meditative editorial. This is followed by an essay on a topic that coincides with the month’s Church theme.
The essays are very good, but last year a guest author wrote on why we make Lenten resolutions. I was floored when I saw myself in the category of the poorest resolutions.
The author wrote that the season of Lent is NOT for self-improvement. WOW! That has been my purpose for years. If I decide to exercise more, to lose weight, to give up desserts, I am doing that for myself! Strengthening my relationship with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with God, is what ought to be my goal in Lent.
If my resolution were to spend 1/2 hour in prayer every evening…
First Reading: Genesis 12:1-4a
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
Is this MY Transfiguration Day?
How much time, every day, do I spend remembering news that was said to me, or about me! Many thoughts, during the course of the day, find me remembering what was said on TV, or from friends by phone, Skype or cell phone. How does that remembering time compare to remembering the Word of God, spoken directly, personally, to me?
In the Reading of Genesis, God says, “Go forth (put your name), to a land that I will show you.” Already, my daily schedule is planned for me by my Creator God! All I have to do is follow.
My name appears again, at the beginning of Timothy: “(put your name), bear your share of hardships for the Gospel.” The needed strength, to be transfigured by these words, come from God.
Matthew’s descriptive Gospel, also, includes me! “Jesus took (put your name) up a high mountain.” Where is it that Jesus takes me so we can be alone? Then, how often do I proclaim “Lord, it is good for me, (put your name), to be here.” Jesus touches me and says “Go, (put your name), and do not be afraid.”
Thanks, God, for the invitation and grace to be transfigured. Thanks for calling me by name. Lord, it is good to be with You.
S. Lorraine Geis, OSF
Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg
The following story was written by Kelly Quirino about her experience with the Oldenburg Sisters of St. Francis while on retreat at Oldenburg Franciscan Center. The full article was published by Atlantic magazine. Permission has been granted by the author for reproduction here. Thank you, Kelly, for this beautiful reflection!
…My mom had already given me my birthday present. The week before, we had set out into a blizzard, aimed for a Franciscan convent about an hour away from where we live. The roads were bad and it got dark early, but we made our way slowly, on slick, wind-whipped roads. The headlights illuminated the snow in front of us, the sky was the same color as the ground around us, and to pass the time I tried to convince my mom that this road was some sort of Miyazakian segue into the underworld. She countered with C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe, and for a while we amused each other with what we thought this Other reality would be, what it would do, how we would interact with it.
We thought we were being funny and clever, but as we drove through Oldenburg, Indiana (population 674) looking for the spires of the Franciscan convent, we realized that what we were imagining together had more or less come true. This was an Other reality, one completely foreign to us, and—viewed through the snow illuminated by the streetlights—probably magic.
We pulled into the convent’s retreat center, separate from the church itself, and were greeted by a tiny and smiling woman. She let us in, she showed us around. The retreat center was three floors of rooms that used to belong to the sisters before they had all moved into the convent itself. Each room was almost identical: cinder block walls, single beds, a sink, a mirror, a closet, a single window. There were stairs, but the sister led us from floor to floor with the aid of an ancient, sea foam green elevator with flickering lights and creaking cables.
She showed us the kitchen, a room as simple as any of the others we had seen, but with a gleaming, automated coffee machine in the center. She was so proud of and grateful for this coffee machine. She grinned and showed me with pointed arthritic fingers how to operate it, how to coax dozens of specialized drinks out of the humming electric machine. She made herself some hot chocolate as an example, and took my mom and me to our room.
Everything about the building was simple, functional, and old. Our sheets were worn but freshly ironed. The blankets were small and thin, but they were thoughtfully placed everywhere, on the backs of chairs, draped over the arms of couches, in almost every cabinet I opened. There were soft chairs arranged in small circles around tables of books and tables in nearly every available space: places to stop, to sit, to think, to talk. In contrast with the cinder block walls and the cemetery just outside the windows, these small comforts did feel luxurious, and important. The place felt whole and large; bigger than the building that contained it.
I spent almost my entire first night in the library, the sister had led me through the dark, long room, and ended with their selection of feminist and mystic texts, which she pointed out to me and winked. So this is how I came to spend an evening, while a blizzard swirled around me, in the dark, silent library of a convent reading about the shadow-feminine and Jungian mother-archetypes. It was one of the most quietly exhilarating nights I have ever had.
My mom and I had signed up for a silent, private retreat. The idea was that we would spend a quiet weekend at the convent reading, writing, thinking. We had free run of everything, could take our meals with the sisters (or not), we had a full weekend to be free of any obligation. The silence did not last long, because the sisters treated us like a miracle: We had come to them in the storm, a mother and daughter. To them we seemed impossibly young, and they doted on us and told us stories.
I am still not sure how, but in the beginning I was introduced to everyone as “Shirley.” The sisters fussed over me, asked how I felt, if I needed anything, told me the history of everything in the room. I missed my chance to correct them, and they were so sweet and friendly that after a while I just couldn’t bear to. At lunch on our first full day at the convent, sitting at a table full of beaming sisters, another approached and I had to introduce myself as “Shirley,” so as not to let the others down. I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty good. I was more than ready to spend the weekend being someone else.
Every sister I met made me guess how old she was. Grinning and gleeful, each time they would tell me how much older they were than what I had guessed. They told me stories about when they were novices, the traveling they had done, the sisters they had studied under. Some of them had grown up in Oldenburg, had gone to the high school attached to the convent.
One sister took me to the chapel she was sitting in at 16 years old, when she received the call to serve. I spent a lot of time in that chapel; it was small, all blue and cream and gold, with swans in the stained glass windows and an angel who looked like Frida Kahlo on the ceiling.
It was hot and sometimes filled with the hissing and banging of the radiators that lined the walls. The pews were dark and the corners were dark and shadowy. On Sunday, when all the sisters were at mass, I could hear them singing far off, somewhere else in the convent, while I sat in this hot, tiny, beautiful chapel. I looked at Frida on the ceiling and listened to the sisters sing and was struck by what mothers all these childless, unmarried women were. Mother-archetypes, straight out of Jungian psychology.
The sisters’ stories were not quite like mine. The stories I save and share are adventures of some sort: things I’ve done wrong, wrong things that have been done to me, dangerous situations that have ended hilariously (I hope). One sister sat me down and told me a story about the sink in her room. The story was that her drain was slow; that was the whole thing. But she smiled at me, as she explained that she was worried that her slow drain might be indicative of a larger problem that might eventually lead to a problem for someone else (or even worse: everyone else). She smiled and touched my hand lightly with hers and said to me, with an air of self-deprecation, “I can’t imagine ever not having the time to just wait for the sink to drain.”
I had taken books, music, and journals. I had given myself assignments, things to think about. I wanted to solve things. I wanted to solve the issue of humility for myself, the issue of faith. I wanted to think about my own shadows and unknown parts, to reconcile them with my mother-ness, with my love for everything. I wanted to learn how to apply the kindness I try so hard to give to the world to myself, as well (and I wanted to know why this is such a hard thing to do).
The morning of the day we left, as I was sitting in that blue and cream and gold chapel with Frida Kahlo on the ceiling, I thought about all the sweet and kind mother-women around me and scrawled onto a scrap piece of paper, ‘I don’t know if I’m trying to get empty or full.’ Everywhere I looked in the convent, I saw an acceptance of that shadow, a comfort with that unknown. From the dark library full of religious, subversive, feminist, and mystic books, to the snake wound around the feet of the statue of Mary who stood at the entrance of the building where we slept. I kept being reminded of these lines, from Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita:
On Ash Wednesday, those of us who are Catholic received ashes and heard the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Let us take a moment in silence, eyes closed, to imagine our origins as dust… not as flecks of insignificant dust or dirt, but stardust!
There is a beautiful Serbian proverb that says: “Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.”
In the beginning, from a nebula of particles and a great spark of energy, God brought forth the universe through an explosion of light and matter… And so we imagine ourselves, long before we came into human being, whirling and twirling, colliding and generating heat as stardust… when in a brilliant burst of light, the cosmos were impregnated, and God began birthing life in a prolonged and ever-evolving expression of love and meaning.
We remember that at the beginning of Earthly time, our planet endured seas of lava, walls of ice, and rivers of acid. It survived volcanoes and earthquakes and floods. The earth stretched and compressed, creating the deepness of oceans and the majesty of mountains. Finally, when God was ready, the violence ceased, and so began peace for living things.
We are atoms fused from love. We are time and space. Just as we are part of the cosmos, the cosmos is part of us. We are made in our divine creator’s image. We are celestial, heavenly. We are love made self-aware of love.
We stand tall as the giant sequoia, and we are as small as an amoeba. We are as undying as the immortal jellyfish, and we pass in the few hours of a mayfly. We run as fast as the cheetah, we fly as high as the goose, and we swim as deep as the anglerfish.
God created an interconnection of beings. The animals and plants balance each other by breathing and expiring opposing gasses. Our bodies give nutrition for each other. We are a joining of all things. We are conjugation of all life past, present, and that yet to come. Just as God created us, we collaborate with our world to bear the next generation. God is a creative, loving God. Our lives, being made in that image, call us to create and love.
~written by Jarrett Meyer (parishioner at St. Christopher, Indianapolis) for Women’s Day 2014 at Oldenburg Franciscan Center
First Reading: Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7 Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19
Gospel: Matthew 11:1-11
Have mercy on me, O Lord, in your goodness wipe away my offenses (Ps. 51).
We begin this first weekend of Lent listening to Jesus teaching us how to break from temptation in order to turn back to God. Jesus tells us: God alone shall we worship and him alone. The Lenten season is six weeks of moving from our allowing ourselves to offend God and others to once more accept God alone as our way, our truth, our life. This calls us to love others as we love God. It is not an easy call, but we are never alone. God has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us on the way to holiness and peace. May we turn from our offenses and trust that through Jesus, the Spirit will show us the way: God’s WAY.
Patty Campbell, OSF
Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg
In continuation of last week’s video blog on the “Journey to Wholeness,” S. Olga Wittekind offers more insight this week into the Jungian concept of the shadow, and how through God’s grace we may grow in wholeness by acknowledging and integrating our less favorable personal attributes.
First Reading: Is 49:14-15 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34
In his classic New Jerusalem Biblical Commentary article the late Carroll Stuhlmueller called today’s first reading “one of the most touching expressions of divine love in the entire Bible.” But Zion said, “Yahweh has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget her infant; be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.”
On occasion mothers who are extremely poor, having little or no food, lodging or security for their child, feel forced or are forced to give their child away and they cry out in love, “I will never forget you.” Set aside all anxiety and worry, say to yourself, “God is with me.” Whisper to yourself, with you, my God, I know that “all will be O.K., all will be well. I will trust. I will wait.” Anxiety blends within the midst of my loving. Life’s true mystery is recognized as Divine Love alive and well in my heart.
May we be servants and lovers of Jesus and stewards of the mysteries of God even when we don’t feel all our needs are being met. All will be O.K. in the midst of our life experiences if we believe and trust God’s word on it.
At Oldenburg Franciscan Center, we often have retreats that touch upon the idea of “growing into wholeness.” In this video, S. Olga Wittekind, PhD, OSF, (director of Oldenburg Franciscan Center, counselor, spiritual director, and former psychology professor) talks about what that means!