From Cave to Cosmos: The Threshold of a New Way of Being

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

Most of you have heard that we Sisters were able to take one day during Advent as a “Cave Day” — a time for going deep into ourselves to explore the stirrings of what might come with the Incarnation of Jesus this Christmas. The image central in my personal prayer space was a lace “wreath” which in actuality was a doily hand-crocheted for me by my great-grandmother in 1962.  At the very center of this wreath I placed a small leather box which was given to me by Sr. Katherine as I embarked on my 2016 trip to Rome. She had a few words on a small piece of paper inside with a message imploring the Sacred Heart of Jesus to be my traveling companion on the journey. This Advent I used that little box to represent the “Cave of the Heart.”

 

I felt called to spend some of my Cave Day allowing watercolor to speak my own heart to me. The accompanying photo shows the earliest stirrings of new life in me as I approached the third Sunday of Advent. The lovely pink emerging from the deep blue of the Sunday denotes the creation of the Universe, and the bright green signifies the movement and life found on our earth. The happiness of Gaudete Sunday colors the imminent birth of Jesus anew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is now three weeks after I began this painting and Jesus has come anew into my world. The three Kings arrived this weekend at the manger, and today Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan. WELCOME TO KAIROS TIME!!! This is the time when events of Jesus’ life and our faith life don’t necessarily coincide with the logical passing of hours, days or years…. Kairos time is the time when our lives are measured by the intensity of sacramental moments and the sureness of feeling God present with us. The watercolor of my cave time has given way to the use of acrylic paint on a wooden birdhouse to mark my commitment to pray for the homeless throughout this coming year. Our community members have all created these wonderful homes as signs that we are part of a village of people living in our own homes but sharing the village of the cosmos in very intentional ways. The photo at the end of this blog is not the end of a journey “from Cave to Cosmos” but the threshold of a new way of being in 2018!

A home with the cosmos for the roof and multi-ethnic people tumbling out of the heart-shaped door. On the back (unseen) are the homeless.

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!”

 

A SISTER’S PRAYER

Sisters Mary Frances and Brenda at morning prayer.

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

O Lord, open my lips

and my mouth shall proclaim Your praise.

               From the Liturgy of the Hours — Morning Prayer

As a sister I am often asked about prayer. “How do you pray? Do you really pray 4 times a day? What forms of prayer do you like best? What is the easiest prayer to remember? How can I teach my children to pray?” These and many other questions arise when we consider prayer.

“Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night.”

“Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night.” This great quote is taped to the night stand next to my bed as a reminder. It has been a part of my personal prayer for a little over a year ago when I first discovered it on retreat with the Carmelite Sisters. There are some days when I forget to open the day with prayer and the joys and riches of that day seem out of reach for me until I become conscious of the need to unlock those delights with prayer.

Similarly, if I forget to lock my day with prayer before bed I toss and turn with anxious thoughts and cares running through my mind. If I can remember to lock up the day….even if it’s 3 am …my sleep becomes restful and I am graced to wake up refreshed!

With one voice: Generations joining in prayer

Protect us Lord, as we stay awake;

watch over us as we sleep….

That awake we may keep watch with Christ;

and asleep, rest in His peace.

            From the Liturgy of the Hours — Night Prayer

O! the luxury of being able to pray in a personal way as I begin a new day…by reading, journaling or just staring at the sunrise or the pine tree outside my window. Prayer is a gift for me to unlock — the gift of God’s love and care!

ROAD TRIP TO ST. LOUIS: Sr. Suzanne Reflects on Summer Service

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

Painting: A Corporal Work of Mercy. Doing Little Things with Great Love.

What would summer be like without a road trip? I know what part of my summer was like with a road trip. This year I took a road trip with a Visitation Companion and 11 high school girls, another Visitation Sister and a high school counselor! It was fun, Fun, FUN!!!

VISTORY is an annual service trip for students from Visitation High Schools around the country. For about a week each year 30 – 50 students from St. Louis, Washington, DC and the Twin Cities travel to a host city for a time of getting to know each other, learning more about Salesian spirituality and serving the elderly, homeless, those on the margins and those in the streets.

I have been part of VISTORY since 2004 and I have always enjoyed traveling and working with a variety of adult chaperones. Sometimes I invite the mom of a participant to help; sometimes another sister and sometimes a former participant. This year I advertised to members of our Visitation Companion group and Nancy Timmerman stepped forward.

I was immediately excited because Nancy had organized many service trips before when she and her husband served as the deacon couple at a church in Forest Lake. They participated in a service trip to Guatemala with a group from St. Philip Church. There will always be glitches on such a trip but Nancy was a seasoned chaperone and able to go with the flow.

We were not exactly Thelma and Louise riding in a top-down convertible…two adults curled up with several sweaters in an air-conditioned coach bus complete with bathroom on board! Getting there was half the fun. It gave the opportunity to connect with the Vis contingent from Mendota Heights.

Corporal Works of Mercy as Service Theme

Sharing a meal during the Special Olympics Gametime

Every Eucharist is a rehearsal for the heavenly banquet. Students and volunteers share a meal.

The Corporal Works of Mercy was the overall theme focused on by the student/faculty planners from St. Louis Viz. Of course, feeding the hungry at soup kitchens or sorting clothing to be distributed to new admissions at a home for troubled youth or cleaning and organizing school classrooms at an inner city parish school with no maintenance budget are in line with what someone would list as the corporal works of mercy. Taking care of infants and children of working parents at a combination pre-school/day care is a modern version of caring for orphans and widows perhaps. Planting a memorial garden was certainly a way for caring for the dead and painting a mural as a way to beautify the surroundings for homeless city dwellers.

One service opportunity was definitely based on an understanding of the theology of the works of mercy…if not actually Jesus’ words. Several hours were spent by all of the students and chaperones together with a group of 18 to 30 year old Special Olympians and their parents. After a few anxious moments by all, the margins disappeared…in fact, at one point there were more outfielders than spectators. A surprise storm forced everyone inside for the game but spirits weren’t dampened. Everyone was close together and the Visitor’s team definitely had the advantage —- some of them had been playing together with the same volunteer coaches for 15 years and their team had won some Special Olympic awards in baseball!

The pictures below show the entire the VISTORY team with the St. Louis Special Olympians in the gym, an after dinner water balloon game on the soggy grass, and the pot luck meal with our new friends and their families and coaches, cooks and a myriad of other folks. Looking around the dining room I was reminded of a friend who says that every Eucharist is like a rehearsal for the heavenly banquet…and this really was a heavenly banquet here on earth!

Vistory 2017

For more pictures of VISTORY and other summer activities, visit us at our, Instagram and Flickr pages.