The following images were snapped by our photo-documenting friend, Sr. Mary Frances. We are grateful to have such pictures to help convey the fullness of life here at the monastery. These were taken over the course of last week, in preparation for Christmas Day. Families and friends gathered from near and far in our homes at Fremont and Girard Avenue North to wrap gifts with our children (that they might bestow on their parents); prepare holiday stockings for 45 local families; and share in prayer and Santa-merry-making. We welcome your comments! We appreciate your ongoing prayers, presence and participation in making any of this happen! What a way to Live and Welcome Jesus, eh?
Monthly Archives: December 2010
Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. – Colossians: 3: 12-13
I wonder how many ways there are to see and celebrate the Holy Family? Mary, Joseph, Jesus: a motley crew if you ever really stop to think about it. We have this blessed virgin who has conceived a child (what?!); shes’s a woman wondering deeply, I imagine, about her future, her sanity, her calling to bear a child that – according to an angel – will do great things. Whew. Then there’s this husband of hers who wants to run, in the midst of the possible scandal (and you have to imagine, contemplating his betrothed’s infidelity), but who receives his own sign in a dream and stays put: committed to Ms. Mary. And then the babe, Himself. Little Jesus: born into a barn-yard space in the wake of closed, crowded, “no-room-inns.” An infant surrounded by straw, manure, livestock, with stars shining overhead. And then we go further, and note that after the birth, these three are on the run. Fleeing their homeland for safer space, where their lives, this baby boy’s well-being, is not at stake.
When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.” — Matthew 2:13
How many ways are there to see and celebrate this ensemble? Can we fathom this crew in our midst? Do we see and seek them inside our churches, our gyms, our grocery stores? Can you look across your own living room and see this mother, father, or child? I wonder. Are there individuals you know who seem to be visited by angels? Are you acquainted with anyone who has had a dream that informed his waking life? Do you know precious, innocent children who are born into the muck, but are dearly beloved, the Divine in our midst? Have you encountered individuals working to honor their lives, their callings, who have made choices to relocate, or sought refuge in the space of a new homeland? Do you know anyone who seems to be living a kind of miracle existence?
I look at my husband, Francois Kiemde, in this light. He is a kind of Joseph, holding fast to a dream: a West African immigrant who settled here in the states in search of honoring his own calling by God. (Shoot, I could draw further analogies between him and Joseph. As the human father to Christ runs across the border to Egypt for safety, I see Mr. Kiemde crossing over the Wisconsin border in another kind of choice to seek refuge and honor-Love-at-work.) I look at our baby girl, Marguerite, and know the Divine indwelling. I reflect in my own heart, and feel the kinship of Mary: a woman saying “yes” despite the odds, making choices that might fly in the face of conventional wisdom.
“At the center of this kind of Holy Family dynamic exists the sanctity and security of Love getting born, right? Of the inconceivable being conceived and entering our midst. The surrogate father, the chosen mother, and the Holy Spirit co-mingle to create this ensemble that brings forth the Divine.” -Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde
My mind goes across the Mississippi River to North Minneapolis, where so many of my friends dwell, so many I experience the Holy Family in and through….These blessed Visitation Sisters have been a Holy Family of sorts to me for years: making a space for me to enter and be received as I am – wondering, wanting, asking, aching, loving. I know I am not alone in this relationship with the sisters. There are countless others – neighbors, church members, community allies, collaborators, folks on the street, who see and seek this kind of sacred alliance of Love and safety with the nuns. We are all supported in our respective spaces to come through the doors of the Monastery and feel re-born, feel alive and so perfectly loved, in the face of whatever our circumstances might be; we are not unlike the Christ child Himself.
Yes. At the center of this kind of holy family dynamic exists the sanctity and security of Love getting born, right? Of the inconceivable being conceived and entering our midst. The surrogate father, the chosen mother, and the Holy Spirit co-mingle to create this ensemble that brings forth the Divine — often into surreal circumstances.
A recent set of headlines* remind me of how wild God is in creating this Holy Family in our midst. Mary Johnson, Oshea Israel, and Carol Green are another manifestation, in my mind, of the Divine coming to dwell in and through an unfathomable set of events. Do you know the tale of this young man and his two mothers? The one who gave birth to him – literally? The other who helped give life to him — spiritually? Oshea Israel, born Marlon Green to his biological mother Ms. Carol Green, and who became a new man when he was forgiven by Mary Johnson, for killing her own biological child? Two women, Carol and Mary, who are now mothers to this child — and it all seems possible in my imagination, only through the lens of the Christ Child and His birth, his family and blessed existence. In Mary, Carol and Oshea, we have the configuration of the most unlikely beings, coming to claim one another and forge an alliance that brings forth something larger than any one of them alone. They witness a love, a dream, an angelic and Holy Spirit like entity that is akin to the Incarnation itself.
In Mary, Carol and Oshea, we have the configuration of the most unlikely beings, coming to claim one another and forge an alliance that brings forth something larger than any one of them alone. They witness a love, a dream, an angelic and Holy Spirit- like entity that is akin to the Incarnation itself. –Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde
As I close out these contemplative musings, I invite you to look around at your life. I invite to see within yourself, the presence of God, and recognize the family that helps give birth, over and over, to this Divine indwelling. I urge you to be a Joseph or Mary to others, and discover the miracle of Love made flesh in your immediate world.
To read more on our friends Mary, Oshea and Carol, see these recent articles in the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press:
Ruben Rosario: He killed her son; she forgave him, Pioneer Press (Click here to read)
MIRACLE OF RECONCILIATION: Once at odds over gruesome murder, 2 Minnesota moms forgive, but never forget
By: Randy Furst, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) / MCT (Click here to read)
by Dave Nimmer*
His given name was Robert John Schranck, but everyone called my old newspaper buddy “The Bear.” He was big, bearded and burly. To me, over the 45 years of our friendship, he was more like a teddy bear.
He always chose to see the good side of me and a couple of years ago I invited him to spend Christmas Eve at the Visitation Monastery of North Minneapolis. The Bear’s kids either lived out of town or were away. That left him alone at his assisted living unit in Maplewood and I usually spent the holiday eve with the nuns.
When I was at WCCO, I did a television story about the contemplative order at Mendota Heights and I followed two of the sisters, who joined three others from St. Louis, to start their urban monastery in a high-crime area of the city. They’ve been there 21 years, saying their prayers, opening their doors and helping their neighbors – an island of peace in a sometimes angry sea.
I brought the pies and The Bear brought the wine. For most of the dinner, The Bear regaled the sisters with stories from his days fighting the Korean War, covering the police beat and reporting on the Minnesota Gophers. He was in his favorite spot: the center of attention.
The Bear didn’t know much about the nuns, except for my stories, and he certainly hadn’t been a regular church attendee. On that Christmas Eve, he was in need of a few prayers and petitions since he suffered from congestive heart failure and diabetes.
When we got over to the monastery/house at 17th and Girard Avenue North, he couldn’t negotiate the ice and snow on the front steps with his cane. Not to worry. The sisters’ neighbor had shoveled a path from the alley, along a handicap ramp and to the back door.
The sweet irony is the guy who did the shoveling was a drug addict and an occasional dealer. But he loved the sisters and I always suspected that he’d put out the word on the street: Mess with those nuns and you’re going to have to deal with me (a savvy street hustler from the projects in Chicago).
The Bear made it up the ramp and, once in the kitchen, he sat in a chair where a sister helped him take off his boots. He was embarrassed because he wasn’t wearing socks and his feet were battered and bruised from the diabetic neuropathy. I think it was Sister Suzanne who said she’d seen worse feet and massaged them with a warm, wet towel. Then she put a pair of oversize wool socks on his feet and we went to the dinner table.
I brought the pies and The Bear brought the wine. For most of the dinner, The Bear regaled the sisters with stories from his days fighting the Korean War, covering the police beat and reporting on the Minnesota Gophers. He was in his favorite spot: the center of attention.
Dinner was roast beef, mashed potatoes with garlic, asparagus tips, his wine and my pies, pumpkin and French Silk, a favorite of the sisters. The Bear ate heartily, but it was the conversation and company that nourished him most. He found the sisters compelling, with their penchant to tell a story, share a laugh and welcome a stranger – especially a prodigal son like him.
He told them the only thing missing was caroling. With that, the sisters, whose voices are quite lovely, suggested singing a few. The Bear and I, in our best barroom baritone, joined them on Adestes Fideles, Joy to the World and Silent Night, which brought tears to his eyes.
It turns out that was really The Bear’s last Christmas. By the next one, he’d had a heart attack and stroke; last year he was battling a systemic infection that took his life in January, 2010.
But that night on our way back to Maplewood from the monastery, we were mostly quiet. As I walked with him down the hall to his room, he thanked me. “You know,” he said, “I can’t remember the last time I sang a Christmas carol. That felt good.”
Yes, it did. Merry Christmas.
Dave Nimmer is a retired reporter and editor at The Minneapolis Star and WCCO TV and Journalism professor at the University of St. Thomas who has known the sisters since 1985. We are happy to feature his work here at the blog site.
“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
On Saturday, December 18, 2010, the Visitation Sisters were joined by their faithful friends and prayer companions from the Cursillo Men’s Group in a collaborative effort to help prepare for holiday festivities with a group of men re-engaging the community after incarceration. Following prayer and fellowship, the Sisters and Cursillo group convened at The NetWork for Better Futures in North Minneapolis — an enterprise committed to reducing recidivism rates by lowering the economic and social costs of high-risk adults.
“We helped the men decorate. There were treats and gifts and much fellowship! It was wonderful and graced.” – Sr. Mary Frances
Sr. Mary Frances described the day’s events: “We helped the men decorate. There were treats and gifts and much fellowship!” As a longtime advocate and friend to the Northside mental health agency “Turning Point,” Sr. Mary Frances, as well as her Visitation and Cursillo counterparts, knows the gift of community and co-journeying with people in recovery and doing re-emergence work. She is deeply steeped in a faith tradition and charism that invites this way of “Living Jesus!” — of beatitudinal action. She reflected on the day: “It was wonderful and graced.”
Indeed. To see evidence of this, check out the following snapshots our dear photojournalist nun snapped with permission of the day’s participants.
Please join us in keeping all of the photographed friends in prayer this season.
I heard a nice homily this morning at mass. It was the kind of inspired reflection that makes you sigh and smile, cry and laugh — all in the space of ten minutes. It was the kind of homily that feeds you, nurtures your spirit for the day — if not the week and months ahead!
Church of the Ascension pastor, Fr. Michael O’Connell was preaching about the presence of God in our midst. For the past two Sundays I’ve heard this priest begin breaking open the Advent scripture by grounding us in the simple fact: that the prophet Isaiah lived 700 years before Christ arrived on the scene. And each Sunday, it’s given me pause: 700 years? I ask myself, “What would it be like to wait 700 years?” I think of all that I have longed for, lived for, prayed for, worked for in my short life, and it’s really nothing, compared to waiting 700 years for something to show up! (Enter information here about the nuns praying for my career, my husband, my baby. World peace. A crime-free North Minneapolis. Inspired political leaders. Less racism. You get the drift.)
I ask myself, “What would it be like to wait 700 years?” I think of all that I have longed for, lived for, prayed for, worked for in my short life, and it’s really nothing, compared to waiting 700 years for something to show up! -Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde
I think about how time is so arbitrary from this perspective; relative, you know, to the circumstances. I mean, what’s my forty years on the planet, compared to a whole group of people’s centuries of hanging around? Waiting. Wondering. Wanting.
(Is this the point I want to make in this reflection? Not really. It’s just a fact that makes me slow down and wonder about longing, goals, the role of prophets and all of our relationship with time and Love.)
Fr. O’Connell goes on to delve into the situation at hand in today’s reading from our 8th Century Old Testament prophet. Signs. Asking for signs. Signs of God’s presence among us. This is the topic of our pastor’s homiletic musings. He lists reasons that we all desire signs of the Divine’s existence: Loneliness, fear, anxiety, isolation, longing. Father goes on to share a recent encounter with a person who was craving such a sign. A mother of a 28 year old young man who committed suicide was desiring some indication from God in her query: “Do you think it’s okay if I ask for a sign that my son is alright and with Him?”
My breathing stops short hearing this. I start to cry at the mere question of this mother posed to this priest.
My brain races ahead. Of course it’s okay! When we ASK to see the Divine at work, we START seeing the Divine at work. I sigh. I lean in. I listen. I love this mass. I love these questions.
“I told her it was okay. I’m not sure I have the most confident authority to respond to her, but I told her that I had asked for signs before, and that I had found God to answer me — not in the way that I always liked or understood. But I have asked and felt God to hear me.”
These aren’t exactly Fr. O’Connell’s words, but they convey the spirit of his encouraging response.
ASK FOR A SIGN. LOOK FOR A SIGN.
I laugh a little to myself. I think of the “Start seeing Motorcyles” bumper sticker. I wonder how a “Start seeing Love” or “Start seeing God” bumper sticker might go over? Same bold font? Right on the back of my CR-V. I like it.
While the homily continued in this beautiful vein of father reading a poem about the ever present nature of God, and the pianist played “O Come O Come Emmanuel” underneath, I got quiet inside. I tuned into the weight and physical reality of my immediate surroundings.
With my almost seven month old baby girl on my lap, I felt the presence of God pressing into my belly and thighs. This twenty five pound snow suited curly headed babe filled my arms and gaze. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed with all that was piercing my heart, mind, spirit.
Love. Love. Love.
These words. These ideas. These emotions. These questions. Of Time. Of place. Of presence. Of Prophet. Of an emerging Christ child among us. Of Maggie Kiemde, with her pink and red flowered covered limbs, resting on me and bringing everything to a central focus.
The Divine is here. I am like Isaiah. Waiting. Trusting. I am like Fr. O’Connell. Asking. Reassuring. I am like this mother: craving, mourning. I am like Marguerite Kiemde: resting in the arms of something larger than me. I am myself: joyous and knowing.
Happy Advent Contemplations. I hope your own church spaces found a way to inspire and trigger your own contemplative musings and reassurances of the blessed Incarnation that we celebrate this season.
Written by Visitation Alumna, Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan
As we continue on our Lenten journey we rejoice this week! It is fitting that the third week of Advent also coincides with the Winter Solstice, December 21, a time when the earth is covered in the longest period of darkness, the longest night of the year. When our world is cloaked in darkness the light shines the brightest. A mom of three children, who lives a few houses down from us, recently said, “It took me this long to make the connection between the winter solstice, Christmas and Christianity. That Jesus is the light of the world! And that his light would shine the brightest in the darkest time of the year.”
So, as we prepare our hearts this week, a time when faith and generosity overcome impossibility. Let the outer lights we light become metaphors for the light we need within. By lighting our inner world we illuminate patterns of brokenness that we wish to reconcile, to let go of, and this is easier to do when we feel joy, lightness, and love instead of sadness, longing, and old hurts. Perhaps we attend the sacrament of reconciliation, or find ways to make amends with ourself or others where we need bridges. Maybe, we mark the Winter Solstice candles of joy and with a ritual that allows us to shed old baggage in preparation for the Christ Child. Whatever acts of joyful light you chose to nurture bask in it, for light at this time of year is a true gift–let it radiate out from your very own tender heart!
Rejoice the time is near!
Behold the most lovable Jesus, Who is about to be born in our commemoration of the forthcoming feast. He is born to visit us on behalf of the Eternal Father. In return, the shepherds and the kings come to visit Him in His crib. Visit Him as well during this novena; caress Him, make Him welcome in your heart, adore Him frequently; imitate His humility, His poverty, His obedience and His gentleness… –St. Francis de Sales (Letters 1582; O. XIX, p. 86)
“Why does Izzy have to play with the manger? She has so a house full of toys, why does she insist on messing with this creche set? Can’t this one thing be sacred and not touched?!”
I can hear my brother in law’s angered voice. I’m in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s the first Monday of Advent, and my four year old niece, Isabella, has just been busted playing with the nativity set in the entrance to their recently decorated holiday home. I get her dad’s frustration. I glean his respect and love for this collection of Christ and manger figures assembled in homage to His birth. (Better yet, I know his parental angst inspired by a precocious child’s insistent, against-dad’s-wishes, behavior.)
I also know my niece’s curiosity; I sense Izzy’s affection for the small-scale figures inside this little scene: hay, baby, bended-knee adults, sheep, cattle, kings. I remember all too well my own inspired hours as a child playing with such a set on my grandma Liewer’s living room floor.
“Hello, baby Jesus. Welcome to the world.”
As a five, six, seven year old, I would imagine Joseph and Mary’s arrival to the barnyard stall, (after all that door-knocking and inn-is-full business); I could see her labor and magical birth, the angels showing up to sing, the animals crouching round and making their animal sounds. I’d voice the three kings awe. I’d gather my own precious gifts in grandma’s house (cookies, crackers, carrots?) and place them next to the magi at the manger. I’d make a whole eventful ritual of the play.
It makes me laugh. It makes me smile. I marvel: oh, the way these scenes speak to our at-ease imaginations — if we only let them.
Enter Francis de Sales’ words today. Enter his invitation to do just this: meditate on that manger. See this child. Contemplate His crass and beautiful arrival on the earth. Perceive Christ’s humility and aspire to act accordingly.
But how do we really get there? How do we let our minds and imaginations go to such places, our bodies enter into such activities? I think as adults we like things neat and orderly. We are not unlike my brother-in-law in his desire for respectful behavior, well-mannered children, a tidy home situation. We want things in their place and to make sense. And meditating on Christ’s entrance into this world, His life and presence among us, is anything but neat and easy reflective thinking. Trying to emulate a Love that aligns with the poor, the gentle, the least among us? Please! It doesn’t make sense. It challenges every way that we are oriented in the world. We must re-order ourselves. We must become like Izzy: curious, small, playful, imaginative — maybe even a little rebellious against the bigger world. We are invited to contemplate a King who comes not on a throne with gold and riches, but appears in the mud and manure, next to livestock and swaddled in hay.
Are you ready? Can you do this? Of course! It’s my Advent prayer for each and everyone of us this season.
On Saturday, December 4, 2010, the Vis Companions convened at Girard House Monastery for their annual Advent retreat. This year’s reflection was lead by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer. The theme this year was: BREATHE IN, ENTER, EXPERIENCE, CELEBRATE THE PRESENCE OF GOD.
Sr. Suzanne led the group through a series of centering exercises and introduced everyone to Lectio Divina. According to Sr. Mary Frances, “there was silence, ritual, fellowship, sharing…everything a good morning includes!”
The following reflection on the morning arrives from Vis Companion Phil Soucheray. We are grateful to have his words here to re-post and share with all of you — especially those discerning their own “companion-ing” relationship with the Nuns.
Reflection from Vis Companion Phil Soucheray:
In the course of every day life it’s easy to lose sight of just how important it is to bring our focus back to that point of true center in our lives — Love. This morning of Advent reflection, so artfully directed by Sister Suzanne for all who were able to attend, was truly one of those respites that help get one properly grounded in relation with God and others.
The theme for the day was “Enter into the presence.” And through the exercises we were allowed to undertake I was pleased to have been able to take away what I hope will become something of a mantra for me throughout the Advent season and onward. That is:
How are you seeing, receiving, sharing this season?
Happy Advent! Happy Entering into the Presence of Love! Incarnational Blessings!
COME, O WISDOM
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
How do we also give birth as Mary did?
We tend to manage life more than just live it. We are all over stimulated and drowning in options. We are trained to be managers, to organize life, to make things happen. That is what built our First World culture. It is not all bad, but if you transfer it to the spiritual life, it is pure heresy. It is wrong. It doesn’t work. It is not gospel.
If Mary was trustfully carrying Jesus during this time, it is because she knew how to receive spiritual gifts, in fact the spiritual gift. She is probably the perfect example of how fertility and fruitfulness break into this world.
Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, p. 31
Reposted by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna
I repost the message below because building on my advent message from last week, it takes the idea of active waiting and prayerful, peaceful presence a step further. It is a message brimming with wisdom in preparation for this Christmas Season. How will you carry Christ to others?
Written by Sr. Helen Margaret Feeney, CSJ
“Over the hillside country Mary went. She had not meant to tell she carried Christ, but the Christ she bore gently bestowed his love on all she met….”*
Like Mary, pregnant with Christ, it is for us to use this special season of Advent to allow Christ to grow daily within us. With Christ, we will create the fruit of peace — the peace that flows from love.
Peace arises from harmony, through communion with God. Prayer alone will put us in contact with His presence. In loving union with Him, we will be able to establish a quiet serenity that no one can take from us. Only then, we will be able to act out of the center of peace.
God loves us dearly and fully comprehends the special beauty of each and every one. Has He not made us to His own image and likeness? Through quiet moments of prayer with Him, nourished by the Eucharist, we can begin to know our own inner beauty, our worth, our being in God. United with Mary, we will become conscious that when she carried Christ within her womb, her breathing was His every breath, her voice was His voice. Suddenly we will realize that He could go only where she chose to take Him.
Is not Christ dependent upon us today? This utter dependence places a great trust in us. As Christ bearers, He will guide us into the way of peace. With Mary as our role model, we must carry Him wherever He wants to go. There may be places He will never go unless we bring Him there. Surely He wishes to go to our workplace — the office, factory or classroom. Or it may be He has a strong desire to visit the wretched lodging of a derelict, an elderly neighbor in a nursing home, a drug or AIDS victim, a whimpering child, or a forgotten alcoholic. If our being there means that Christ is present, that alone makes it worthwhile. Indeed, each of us can be a minister of love and bring Christ’s peace to the lives of others. We just have to welcome them with a caring love and bring Christ’s peace to the lives of others. We just have to welcome them with a caring love by listening attentively to the communication of their hearts. By being in close touch with the Source of Peace, we shall begin to act out of that Source.
As men, women and children of God, we are the Church. We are here to create Christ’s peace first within ourselves and then bring it to those we meet along the hillside of life’s journey. By so doing, our peace-filled joy will know no boundaries when at Holy Mass and Communion we cradle Christ, the Prince of Peace on Christmas Day.
A Blessed Advent.
*Author unknown to the writer