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

 

 

 

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!”

 

ADVENT: TIME OF VIGILING AND WAITING

starry-nightby Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

Our Advent theme at the monastery is Vigiling.

As I began my personal Advent journey this year I realized some of my ways of preparing for this time were marked with the familiar,  such as a place for an Advent wreath in my personal prayer space and gathering a myriad of Scripture guides and seasonal prayer books and photos. Some of these were also different, or new this year. I am using electric candles with my wreath because sometimes in the very early morning hours or late night time I forget to extinguish them before I leave my room and I insist on REAL evergreen boughs because I need the smell to remind me of the season and also of the north woods of the Upper Peninsula where my father was raised. The connection goes deep here because my Dad and his brother and Sister used to cut trees from their property and bring them to Chicago to help the family survive when they were young adults. Since the tradition has continued and my Aunt and her children did the same as I was growing up. As a city cousin, I was overjoyed when they visited us around Thanksgiving to bring their handiwork to my part of the world. Those wreaths funded my cousins’ educations. Memories associated with Advent smells. These are the same and new ones are often added….

It is a time of waiting for the deepest, darkest time of solstice when the light begins to come again. I wait for that time, as many humans have for ages before me.

Many years I have spent the first week of Advent noticing and praising God for the beauty of the early morning and late afternoon skies. What a wonderful contrast of light and dark broken with deep hues of purple, pink, indigo and orange! It is a time of waiting for the deepest, darkest time of solstice when the light begins to come again. I wait for that time, as many humans have for ages before me.

Our Advent theme at the monastery is Vigiling, particularly with our Sister Mary Margaret as she gains strength daily since her September stroke. I wondered on the first day of Advent if Vigiling was just another word for Waiting…

Vigiling is living the present moment with hope and faith.

dromedaries-carawane-sunset_source-nosadeAs I contemplated these two terms I realized that waiting for the Winter Solstice was very different from vigiling with Mary Margaret. Waiting is something that we do with expectation. It is looking/working toward a specific end. Children wait for Christmas. I wait for a doctor’s appointment or the opening of the drive through window at the bank. Vigiling is something more immediate. It is living the present moment with hope and faith. I am with Sister Mary Margaret as she stands at the parallel bars at physical therapy for the first time; I have faith that the speech therapist will help her understand that swallowing takes daily practice. I pray with her and for her and sometimes with her in the present moments of each of our days. Living the present moments, joyful, sad, filled with laughter or tears is the type of Vigil I am doing this year. A vigil of Presence with Hope. Christmas will be a time to celebrate the incarnation. Camels, sheep, shepherds and kings will adorn my Advent wreath. Reindeer and Santa will be packed away with other decorations but the Hope of Vigiling will remain.

In Preparation for the Greatest Birthday Ever Celebrated…

Facebook Alert! Twitter Alert! Flickr Alert!

Brenda and S Mary Frances bake cinnamon buns and julekaga bread

Brenda and S Mary Frances bake cinnamon buns and julekaga bread

A blessed Gaudete Sunday! In Sunday’s Gospel, John the Baptist gives a few pointers for our immediate preparation for the greatest Birthday ever celebrated:

  • Open your closet and share;
  • Open your pantry and share;
  • Open your heart to the Great Mystery of the Incarnation and share.

Here at Visitation, our upcoming week is chock full of opportunities that will help us all prepare body, mind and spirit —

  • We kicked off the week with a baking Julekaga spree; (see the results!)
  • We anticipate the delivery of many items to fill Christmas bags for our families; (see FB photo album; Watch VIDEO).
  • We look forward to a lovely prayer service with our children and a visit from Santa and his Visitation helpers; (see FB photo album; Watch Video.)
  • We will welcome children to select and wrap Christmas gifts for Mom Dad, Granma and Grandpa. (See FB photo album)

The wonderful gift of living here is that neighbors near, & family and friends from afar come together to volunteer to bring the true spirit of Christmas to one another and to those we serve.

The Giving Tree at Shriner's Hospital

The Giving Tree at Shriner’s Hospital

So….Keep posted on our social media channels!* We hope to give you a pictorial experience of our week.

LIVE + JESUS!

We are grateful to our many contributors:

  • Visitation School, John Dols,
  • Jeannie Geisler and the kids at Holy Family High School in Victoria, St. Thomas Becket Catholic Church,
  • Sponsor a Family Minnesota,
  • Shriner’s Hospital for Children,
  • Tempworks,
  • Mel Hatman and TLC Toys,
  • Highland Catholic School,
  • and many individuals who donated gifts and gift and grocery cards

The list goes on and on!

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Social Media channels:

*Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/VisitationMonasteryMpls/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MinneMonastery

Flickr photo albums: https://www.flickr.com/photos/46292937@N02/albums

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/VisitationMonastery/

Advent 2015: From Darkness to Light

The following comes from our community’s planning for this Advent 2015 season. We share to inspire your own planning and journey through this sacred time of year.

From Pax Christi USA

Theme: Through Darkness to Light

We are People of Hope because we believe in both the Promise of Darkness with its capacity for germination, its deep fecundity; AND we believe in the Promise of Light with its capacity for wisdom, guidance, warmth and its ever increasing understanding.

Can we experience such a life giving cycle when Darkness seems to engulf our world? How are we planting seeds of Hope right now?

The people of Hebrew Scriptures and ourselves and all people, hope for the same things: lasting peace, sufficient food, tranquil lives and an end to suffering. Early peoples were afraid that when the darkness came that was the end. They came to appreciate the cycle of life…the days, the seasons… from experience. Can we experience such a life giving cycle when Darkness seems to engulf our world? How are we planting seeds of Hope right now?

Another question we are asking: How can we take Advent to our neighbors?

Scripture

This liturgical year we use Cycle C in the lectionary. All Sunday gospel readings this year are from Luke. They are in a reverse-chronological order with the Second Coming of Jesus on the first Sunday and the Visitation on the fourth Sunday. The in between weeks are devoted to John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of the kingdom and the way to follow Jesus. John the Baptist points to Jesus, Light of the World, drawing us through the darkness (the shortest days of the year) to the ever-emerging light, all through the readings. We hear this theme repeated through the words of the prophets this year—Jeremiah, Baruch, Zephaniah and Micah. (This year we do not hear from Isaiah on Sundays as in other liturgical years.) The second reading on the Sundays from Paul’s letters encourage disciples to live in the way of following the Light of the World (Jesus.)

Resources

“The Promise of Light: Reflections for Advent and Christmas 2015.”  (Personal devotional resource of Pax Christi USA)  Individuals can reflect on the readings, the stories, and recall their own similar stories and encounters as well as receive an invitation to ask, “How might I be the “promise of light” in God’s world today?”

Contemplating the creche: What do we cradle into being?

What are you cradling?

What are you cradling?

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

We passed a wooden cradle lined with a soft, quilted comforter from person to person, speaking of our pasts, our passions and what brought us to the room. On this first Sunday of Advent, there were 16 of us gathered alongside the Visitation Sisters at the monastery on Fremont Avenue north in Minneapolis.

The cradle, built for a small doll, moved from one set of hands to another. This child’s play toy, evoking imagination and care, was empty, save the blue and white checkered lining. It rest open, waiting, ready to receive a small babe, a doll, perhaps. Set beneath a thatched roof, wooden structure, it could serve as a creche for the Christ child. In each hand, it was open to receive our words,  our dreams manifesting, even being born in our speaking….

“What small thing are you longing to cradle and bring before the world, in a small, hidden, holy way? Where are you saying, ‘yes’ to Love being born?”

The Sisters extended an invitation to create a Resident Lay Community alongside them in north Minneapolis and, on this particular December night in Advent, convened a room of discerning adults who were hearing a “yes” in their own hearts and minds to this holy opportunity.

Hail Mary, 1950, Frank Kacmarcik

Hail Mary, 1950, Frank Kacmarcik

With each passing of the cradle, a profound stillness and sacred “yes” seemed apparent:

YES, I’m interested.

Yes, I’m open.

Yes, I’m seeking.

Yes, your will be done.

It was as if Mary, Christ’s mother, was in our midst….

***

We ask for continued prayers as this community, vision, dream, gestates and makes way to birth. Not unlike the Christ child being born, there is a faithful certainty and hope, expectation and dreams, all connected with this labor, with this journey,  with this longing and promise by God to become.

In this Advent Season, we invite you to consider your own prayerful pondering and meditation on the Christ Child’s crib: Still empty, what do you desire to see in that space of comfort and simultaneous discontent? What small thing are you longing to cradle and bring before the world, in a small, hidden, holy way? Where are you saying, “Yes” to Love being born?

We can all pray for one another, perhaps?

LIVE+JESUS!

 

Snapshots from the Sisters: Advent Edition

Advent and Incarnation Blessings! We are so blessed at this time of the year with the prayerful presence of so many friends, families, and volunteers, as we go about our Merry-Christmas-Peace-making-Prayer, that remind us of the journey to Christ’s birth and God among us.

Advent at the Monastery. Anna and Laura Presents

Photo #2: Anna and Laura Dourgarian dropping off Christmas presents from the staff at TempWorks Software. (Two friends from countless organizations and community networks that generously donate to our community at this time of year.)

Here are a couple photos highlighting our Advent to date. We invite you to write a creative caption for any of these photos below in our comment section.

 

Advent Christmas Cookies with SS

Photo #1: Sr. Suzanne Making Christmas Cookies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Prayer and Santa Party

Photo#3: Sr. Karen leading prayer in the chapel at the Christmas prayer and Santa Party.

 

Christmas Story Vis Seniors

Photo #4: Vis School Seniors read from the Christmas story as Sr. Katherine and children look on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Visit our Facebook page and Flickr albums for more pics from this season.