Stranger in a Foreign Land

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

I must admit that every time I go to our nation’s capital I do feel like a tourist…probably because even though I have been to Washington, DC, over two dozen times, there is always something new to see. Most of my visits have been a day or two or even only a few hours after a meeting and before catching a plane.  This year’s “must see” is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Just a stone’s throw from the Washington Monument on the Mall, it catches the eye of passers-by.  I heard many ask “What is THAT supposed to be?” as they see the three-storied silhouette of a corona representing faith, hope, and resiliency.

Guides directed us to elevators and escalators (there are 4 additional stores below ground level) and suggested we take the elevator to begin our journey.  As we descended we went back in time…exiting in the midst of the 1400’s Transatlantic Slave Trade.  I was beginning to feel like a stranger in a foreign land. As I moved past the horrors facing black brothers and sisters in colonial America, some things came back to me from history books. I realized the Revolutionary and Civil Wars had been taught to me from an all-white American perspective. Was this a fair deal for any American? Economics and the cotton industry governed the life of enslaved workers who often picked cotton from sunrise to sunset, and since cotton was such a sought-after commodity to make durable clothing for those who could afford it, often those who picked the raw material could not afford to purchase the finished product. Such economic enslavement was just the first of many surprises the Museum held for me.

Segregated drinking fountains

Emotionally, I struggled past stories of people I “knew” better like Thomas Jefferson, Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nat Turner, and Harriet Tubman.  The era of segregated railroad cars and lunch counters as well as Jim Crow featured a moving memorial to Emmett Till and one of the airplanes of the Tuskegee Airmen.  I was getting closer to home since one of our neighbor’s uncles was an airman.

Marching on through the museum with the Movement, I found myself in MY era: the 60’s, with its huge protests, student marches, and prejudice of every kind.  The memories of war, black classmates, and Kent State flooded my mind.  I stopped into a sound booth that invited museum goers to leave our own stories for future museum goers.  With an audience of another senior citizen in the room, I shared about a college roommate who was African American from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She was an art major and quite interesting. She was a good student but never went to the library to study with me after supper.  She often asked me to bring back a book for her or to Xerox a particular required reading assignment that was on reserve. She told me she never went out after dark.  In her town, she lived with a curfew and even her father came home from his job as a cab driver by 6 o’clock!  I found this unbelievable.  This was the first time I’d heard of “sundown laws.”  Growing up in Chicago and educated in Iowa, these were foreign concepts. My recorded story stopped at this point but the woman in the booth with me told me she liked hearing my story. We visited, and I processed my own hearing of my story.

She was an educator from Atlanta, and as we talked I realized my roommate had been a victim of systemic racism.  The existence of “sundown laws” not only prevented her from studying in a college library, they had prevented her father from earning a good living for his family because he was not allowed to drive his cab after dark when there were higher fares charged and perhaps more people out for a “night on the town.”  My own life has been touched by systemic racism that shows itself in the economic, political, and educational facets of American life.

I am no longer a stranger in a foreign land but am finding myself a stranger in my own country!

No Place Like Home

by Sister Mary Frances Reis, VHM

Greetings and, on behalf of all the Sisters, a most Blessed New Year to everyone “in the Cave and in the Cosmos”! Advent 2017 was a precious and sacred moment in our community (you can catch a glimpse in this blog). Believe it or not, we are now journeying with the Magi to the Solemnity of the Epiphany, and yes, we’ll be tucking away the decorations and décor of the Season for another year!

The month of December brought hope and joy to the children and parents of our neighborhood community.  Sponsor a Family MN, Visitation School in Mendota, the St. Thomas Beckett and St. Girard faith communities, and dozens of others made it happen.  All culminated with a combined prayer-service-and-Santa-visit at our Fremont house… which brings me to the New Year!

For the new year, we have chosen our overarching theme:

HOME

Home, in its many dimensions.

Each Sister painted a house in honor of their monastery and neighborhood homes

Wendy Wright, Salesian scholar and friend, puts it succinctly:

“The Home as an image can reflect a sense of identity and meaning-making that contains within itself a clue to the way we understand ourselves in the world.” 

This theme of home will begin with the living spaces of the Sisters at Fremont and Girard.  We want to make whatever adjustments necessary to ensure that we remain a place of unconditional welcome and prayer, and at the same time attend to the care of our Sisters.  What this means in reality is for the Holy Spirit to share! Keep tuned!

We are in relationship with many home communities in the neighborhood, with those who open their doors to shelter the homeless and those who struggle to have a roof over their heads.  As we look at our own living space, we need to be attentive to those who yearn for affordable housing for their families.

Early in the new year, we will begin to address issues surrounding our focus on home. Both through advocacy and through sharing of our resources, we hope to make a small contribution to the housing crisis in our own city. Please join us in prayer and action as we move forward. We’ll keep you posted on the unfolding. We are deeply grateful for your partnership with us!

Homeless Jesus Statue, St. Mary’s Basilica, Minneapolis
Representing everyone in need of a home.
Photo courtesy of http://www.mary.org/

Advent in Hindsight: How the Sisters Prepared for Christmas

One of my favorite parts of the monastery lifestyle on Fremont and Girard is the Sisters’ prayerful attention to detail. Every flower, every candle, every table centerpiece is chosen with care. This spirit is especially evident during Advent, when the Christmas hustle and bustle must somehow be balanced by a special focus on the birth of Christ. How did the Sisters choose to spend their Advent of 2017?

 

Visitation Companion Retreat

One of the main tenets of the Visitation mission is supporting spirituality among laypeople, so the Sisters nurture a community of lay neighbors called the Visitation Companions. This Advent, Sister Suzanne guided the Vis Companions in a prayerful exploration of the personal darkness that precedes the light of Christ. She asked, “As a beloved child of God, what gifts has God given me to make Christ alive in the darkness?”

 

Sponsor a Family

Scripture from the first Saturday of Advent implored, “Freely you have received; freely you are to give.” The Sisters love to encourage this circle of generosity. This Advent, the Sisters helped bridge the generosity and needs of neighbors by participating in the Sponsor a Family initiative, where friends with surplus could support friends who were lacking. The Sisters arranged partnerships between friends.

For instance, Bill drove Linda to pick up gifts for Linda’s family.

 

Cosmic Advent Wreath

Inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, the Sisters centered their devotion on God’s creation. “Let us sing as we go,” Pope Francis wrote. “May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.” The Sisters’ mantra was “From Cave to Cosmos” as they reflected on their personal relationship with the universe. Each Sister built a small cave for her prayer table to focus her meditation, and each took a “hermit” day to separate herself from the household activity and pray.

 

Christmas Tree

The Sisters ended Advent and welcomed the season of Christmas by setting up their Christmas tree. They befriended the man who helped them pick it out, and friends helped them set it up. Every ornament is a gift from a friend, as is the firewood that burns in the fireplace beside it. Thus the festive Fremont living room embodies the Salesian virtues of simplicity, hospitality, and joy.

 

Children’s Prayer Service

In the old Windsock tradition, the Sisters hosted a prayer service for neighborhood children where they sang, played, and prayed together. Students from Visitation School in Mendota Heights contributed a personally-decorated stocking full of gifts for each child. It was a gentle, strong reminder that Christmas is a special opportunity for us to celebrate God.

Advent Week IV: My Birth

This Advent was especially short, and we only had one day to celebrate its fourth week; however, the shortness of the week did not diminish the importance of the fourth theme: Birth of Self into the Cosmos. This theme reminds us as individuals to stop and enjoy creation in our everyday lives, as we each play a part in the continuation of the grand Universe.

As inspiration to treasure the Universe, we pray:

4 Cosmic Candles, Girard House

COME Ever-Present, Ever-Coming Christ

Today as we light the candle of My Birth into the Whole Cosmic Body of the Universe, we are aware You accepted me in my most naked being of beginning. Now, joined to all being and in conscious loving trust, we pray to move forward on the great journey of life-into-death-into-new life. We believe all life came from You and is forever on a journey back to You.

COME waken us to Wonder

 

This blog post concludes the Advent series as the Sisters journeyed from Cave to Cosmos. The Cosmic Advent wreath featured candles colored for a series of births throughout our blessed history: blue for the universe, green for the solar system, red for Jesus Christ, and amber for ourselves. We thank you for journeying with us, and we wish you a holy and merry Christmas.

Advent Week III: Birth of Jesus Christ

With our Cosmic Advent Wreath, we pondered first the Birth of the Universe and then the Birth of the Solar System; now, this week, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus. It is a reminder that God cared enough for us, His creation, to send His son to help us grow. It is our honor to pass that care and devotion on to the rest of creation around us.

This week, we pray in the words of John Kavanaugh, SJ:

Cosmic Advent Wreath, Fremont House

 

COME Risen Christ Incarnate Love

Today as we light the candle of the Birth of Jesus the Christ, we pray to “fall in love once again with the Great Mystery of God’s care for us — Divine Incarnation so deep and long —  as to take on our bodied lives as God’s very own, even our most humble beginnings and endings, and finally, see each day as opportunity to bear Christ ever newly.”

COME, waken us to Love.

 

 

A final word: It might come as a surprise that the Birth of Jesus is Week III and not Week IV. Why not celebrate this theme closer to Christmas (it is His birthday, after all!)? There is a reason. Stay tuned for next Sunday’s theme — it is a beautiful culmination of this Advent prayer journey.

Advent Week II: Birth of the Solar System

Last week, Sister Mary Frances explained how the Sisters are using the time of Advent to explore the grandness of the universe in a personal way. In particular, they are focusing on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si on caring for our environment.

Laudato Si is the source of the words in their prayer for the second week of Advent. The theme is Birth of the Solar System, which reminds us of the beauty of our earthly home. They are praying,

Cosmic Advent Wreath, Girard House

 

COME Wondrous Community of Infinite Love

Today as we light the candle of the Birth of the Solar System, we pray, “Triune God, wondrous community of infinite love, teach us to contemplate You in the beauty of the universe, for all things speak of You. Awaken our praise and thankfulness for every being that you have made. Give us the grace to feel profoundly connected to everything that is.”

COME, waken us to PRAISE

 

 

 

Praying a Good-Bye, Praying a Hello

by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

Theologian and retreat leader Sister Joyce Rupp reminds us that before we can say hello to new beginnings, we need to pray our good-byes.  This wisdom applies to many of our life’s journeys as we move from dying  to rising.

For the past seven years, Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde has served as our amazingly gifted social media specialist,  keeping our website and various platforms current and creatively relevant.  We cannot count the times people have commented on our “five star” presence in the world of social media.

It is with a twinge of sadness that we pray our good-bye to Melissa in her capacity of Visitation’s social media specialist, but it is also with a prayer of hope and anticipation for her new beginnings: as a spiritual director, and as she and Francois embark on a brand new endeavor with their new bakery!

Anna Dourgarian and Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

We could never have enough words of heartfelt gratitude for Melissa’s wonderful work in spreading our beloved Salesian spirituality!

An amazingly graced moment happened the very week we received her letter of resignation!  Anna Dourgarian (Visitation High School graduate, former Visitation Immersion Program volunteer, and Visitation Companion) appeared on the scene and will take over where Melissa left off.  She brings a variety of technological gifts and a love for our spirituality to her new position as our social media specialist.  It is with grateful hearts that we pray our hello to our dear Anna!

These two women will always be our Visitation Sisters!  Thank you, Holy Spirit!

Advent 2017: From Cave to Cosmos

by Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM

 

A Blessed Advent to Everyone!   We have only 22 days from the first Sunday of Advent to Christmas.  Each year we select a particular focus for this sacred season.

In our monastic community, we are directing our thought, prayer, and planning to that time of stillness in the cave/womb that prepares us to reach out to the cosmos and “all nations” at Epiphany. Spiritually, a cave symbolizes spiritual protection, rebirth, and the invitation to something new. The cosmos beckons us to share our reborn selves with the world. For instance, especially at this time, we are called to change ourselves and support the world through Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on the environment.

The Cosmic Advent Wreath

To complement our focus, we have prepared a Cosmic Advent Wreath, an adaptation of the traditional Advent wreath.  Each week emphasizes a different dimension of the cosmos.  Week 1 focuses on the Birth of the Universe. Our centering prayer says:

 

COME Sacred Source of All Life

Today as we light the candle of the Birth of the Universe unfolding in God who fills it, we pray for an awareness of the oneness of the universe, vast and vibrating with the sound of its beginning. Like the First Flaring Forth, this small flame reminds us of our presence in the Christ in whom we live and move and have our being in this ever-expanding universe.

 

 

May this sacred time of preparation for Christmas find us in that place of stillness (cave/womb) that will lead us to Live Jesus in outpoured love: “From the Cave to the Cosmos!”

 

On the Road to Emmaus

by Betty

Walk to Emmaus” by Betty Shoopman.  Used with permission.

by S. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

“We were, indeed, pilgrims on the same path, engaging each other in contemplative conversation. We were using the same concepts if not the same language and imagery, and saying so many of the same things. And that, after all, is what it’s all about isn’t it? It’s about being on this journey together, feeling our hearts burn within us, recognizing Jesus in nourishing bread and empowering word.” —- Monica Brown, OP, April 1996

These words were written by a friend of mine three years before she died. She was at the time just finishing a time of leadership in her Sinsinawa Dominican community. I had just entered religious life here in Minneapolis, moving here from Ypsilanti, Michigan where she and I were both in a Feminist Spirituality/Support Group for those in a variety of ministries. We became friends over civil discourse and differing opinions on the role of women in the Church. We did agree that we as sisters needed each other to be the best people we could be for those we came in contact with in chaplaincy work.

“While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” — Luke 24:30-32

I missed Monica when she moved away to be more involved in her order’s leadership. We lost track of each other and I didn’t even tell her in person about my decision to join the Sisterhood. Her final gift to me arrived at the door of our Fremont House one early spring afternoon in the person of Sharon Bartlett, a neighbor who lived about a block from our monastery. She came bearing news of Monica. Monica wanted me to meet Sharon and to know that she herself was in hospice care and did not want visitors. Sharon and I became friends….companions on the journey.

Not many years later I was one of many who companioned Sharon during her struggle with gioblastoma. The in-between years we were sisters in spirit, caring for others here on the north side, feeding others on the nourishing bread and empowering Word that has been passed on to us.

God loves us back to life | Easter Homily by Fr. Michael Newman, OSFS

image

The empty tomb. Artist unknown.

Acts 20:34a, 37-43; John 20:1-9

Good morning and Happy Easter! We celebrate today the Resurrection – the empty tomb that is sitting behind here. Jesus alive and present in our life or, as one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury says:

“Christ is not dead/nor does God sleep/while waking Man/God does striding in the Deep./To birth ourselves anew/And love rebirth/From fear of straying long/ on outworn Earth./One harvest in, we broadcast seed for further reaping./Thus ending Death/and Night/and Time’s demise/And senseless weeping.”1

In other words, “resurrection” as we celebrate it today in Easter is about God doing something new. We see this in our Gospel today when the disciples and Mary Magdalene get to this empty tomb and have no idea what’s going on. We see it in the first reading when St. Peter professes his faith in the resurrected Christ and how Jesus was resurrected by the Father’s love. Because, at it’s heart that’s what resurrection is. It’s about God loving us back to life. And this didn’t just happen once 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. It continues to happen today.

Earlier this week, when trying to write this homily, I took a break and looked at my Facebook newsfeed. I saw this story by a friend of mine who lives with her husband and 5 year-old daughter in St. Paul, MN.

Kiddo had an out-of-the-blue-meltdown/ “tantrum” when I was tucking her in, screaming me out of her room. It was bizarre. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t take it personally, I just went downstairs to read my book. 15 minutes later she comes down,

“Hey mom, can we talk?”
“Sure.”
Her words:
“What happened there? You didn’t do anything wrong, and I yelled at you, and I’m sorry. Can we try again?”

“Sure.”
Then she recounted each step of our bedtime ritual, (I think she was looking for her trigger…It’s what we’ve been trying to do after our fights, but she’s never LEAD the reflection-conversation.)
Upshot:
When we got back to the bed to tuck in, she said, “next time I get that mad and use any words like, “stupid” please tell me to, “stop” in your serious voice. And tickle my feet.”
“I love you. Please forgive me for tonight.”

This is resurrection: God doing something new – allowing the daughter to take the lead in this mother-daughter relationship, which then lead to a resolution, to a strengthened relationship, and to a deeper bond of love. In this moment, God loved both of them back to life.

“God keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves…”2

Now “new” isn’t always perfect. Like the Easter story, “new” itself is often messy – there’s an open tomb, grave linens thrown on the floor, people not knowing what is going on. It’s not as serene as some stain- glassed windows would like you to think. For us, new looks like the person who is six days sober and still trying to stay on the wagon. “New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time we manage to admit we were wrong and every time we manage not to admit that we were right. New looks like every fresh act of forgiveness and of letting go of all those things we didn’t think we could live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming – never even hoped for – but ends up being what we needed all along. This is Resurrection – newness in our messiness because God keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves”2 – graves right now of sorrow, doubt, fear, anger, and pain. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over until we can say with St. Peter, Mary Magdalene, and my friends in St. Paul, “I have seen the Lord.”

Amen.
May God be praised.

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Fr. Michael Newman OSFS

Fr. Michael Newman OSFS

Rev. Michael E. Newman is an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and Director of the Oblate Novices. This homily was delivered at St. Mary of the Good Counsel Church in Adrian, MI. The reference to the Facebook conversation is between Vis Companion Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde and her daughter. We reprint this with permission.

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1 Ray Bradbury, “Christus Apollo”
2 Examples adapted from Nadia Boltz-Weber, Pastrix, p. 174.