This is the hand of a woman who has lived a long life.

by Johan van Parys

Her hand shows the marks of time: arthritis, wrinkles, veins, cuts and bruises. Her hand is open, extended and inviting. A gesture which is reflective of the mission she serves. This is the hand of a woman who has lived a long life, a dedicated life. This is the hand of a woman who has served the church for many, many years. This is the hand of a woman, convinced that she can continue to contribute to the church despite old age and even beyond death.

We don’t know her name and we need not know her name for she embodies the millions of women who have carried the church through their prayer and their actions. They are the women who have prayed for our needs, hidden behind the walls of their monasteries or in plain view in our streets.

Nestled in her hand is a simple rosary, seemingly made of olive wood. It is the string of beads she has fingered thousands upon thousands of times as prayers passed her lips. This rosary was probably passed on to her from another sister as most everything else she uses. Her prayers build upon her sister’s prayers stringing years and years of prayer together. It is this rosary she faithfully returns to at the end of the day. It is this rosary she purposefully reaches for during difficult times. It is this rosary she happily cradles during times of joy. Her dedication to prayer keeps her centered. It keeps her rooted. It allows her to stay the sacred course she embarked on when she took her religious vows.

In this image the rosary is not used for prayer, rather the rosary gently placed in her hand is a form of evangelization. A worn rosary in the hand of an elderly woman speaks to the power of prayer. Without saying a word she shows the rosary as if inviting us to take it from her so we too may enter into the saving chain of prayer. This is her legacy: prayer saves! It is what she hopes to pass on to each one of us.

Though somewhat out of focus we can see the pectoral cross she is wearing around her neck. She received it at her profession and has worn it ever since. The cross has given her direction for all these years and continues to do so today. The cross in this image quietly testifies to the fact that it is by the cross we have been saved and it is by the cross we are called to live. If the rosary invites us to prayer, the cross calls us to action. These are the two great tenets of our life as Christians. Together they have been given to us as a mandate by Jesus himself: Celebrate the Eucharist and Wash Feet.

We don’t know her name and we need not know her name for she embodies the millions of women who have carried the church through their prayer and their actions. They are the women who have prayed for our needs, hidden behind the walls of their monasteries or in plain view in our streets. They are the women who have staffed our schools and universities where they have taught our children. They are the women who have worked in our hospitals where they have cared for our sick and our elderly.

They may wear veils instead of miters and they may carry books rather than crosiers but they are the ones who have shaped and molded so many of us into the people we are today. Their impact on our church is beyond measure. We simply would not be who we are as a people and as a church without them.

This image is a quiet testimony to the great work God is accomplishing through our religious and through all women in our church.

 

Johan Van Parys

Johan van Parys, a native of Belgium, has been The Basilica’s Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts since 1995. He holds graduate degrees in art history and comparative religious studies from the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

*See this artwork in the Pray to Love Exhibit at The Basilica of St. Mary.

From Table to Table

Eucharistby Sr. Karen Mohan, VHM

“Our faith tells us that the Eucharist is the ultimate Thanksgiving meal and the best preparation for being sent.”

For the past 25 years our monastery dining room table has been the setting for good food, stimulating  conversation  and  amazing people  who enrich and inspire us to “walk the talk”  of our mission embodied in the motto of the Visitation Order,  “Live Jesus“.

This Fremont table was a gift from previous owners,  Lacious and Margaret Burgess who raised six children  and fed many  friends and neighbors long before we arrived in north Minneapolis. We learned from their pastor that no one was turned away at the Burgess’  home.

The Sisters  recognize the sacredness of this  table.   We  hope that those who have been fed at our table   will  “taste  the blessing”  received  “where two or three gather “ in Christ’s name.   Such blessings  flow from  the nourishment  received at the “Table of Thanksgiving”  which we  call “The Eucharist”.

As part of our way of life as Visitation Sisters, we participate in the great prayer of the Mass daily.

“Feeding on the Body of Christ strengthens and unites us as we are sent forth to share Christ’s love…”

Mass at MonasteryMany priests have made time in their schedule so that we can celebrate Mass regularly in our monastery. We are very grateful to them and to others who join us for  this  great prayer.  On some days the congregation may be small; on other days  we are “shoulder to shoulder”  as we pray!

The word, “Mass“  means  “to be sent”;  Eucharist  means  “Thanksgiving”. Our faith tells us that the Eucharist is the ultimate Thanksgiving meal and the best  preparation for being sent.  We come as the family of God, to praise and thank God for the blessing of life and to intercede for  the  people and  needs of the whole  world.  We ask for mercy. We listen to and share the Word of God in union with people across the globe “breaking open” the same Scriptures. We witness the Spirit alive and active among us as we share.

In the Eucharistic prayer  the crucified and risen Lord gathers us all into unity.  With confidence, then, we join our hands and pray as he taught us, share his peace with each other and partake of his very life in communion. Feeding on the Body of Christ strengthens and unites us as we are sent forth to share Christ’s love that day.

I am aware that  the Mass holds the intimacy of Christ loving me as I hear his Word and unite my life with his offering to his Father. I am also aware that the Mass holds the expansiveness of Christ’s transforming presence in the community gathered at this “covenant meal”.   As a deeply personal prayer and a communal prayer, the Eucharist prepares us to live the mandate of Matthew 25:

  “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.” 

I like how C.S. Lewis once put it, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament, your neighbor is the holiest object present to your senses.”

In this, our 25th anniversary year,  I  can imagine those who once came for Eucharist at our monastery but now celebrate the “full vision” of  Christ’s presence in heaven  joining us as we continue to acclaim at every Mass,   HOLY  HOLY  HOLY…. HEAVEN AND EARTH ARE FULL OF GOD’S GLORY !

 

Contemplating Peace in Syria and the World

Imagining a non-violent response: A Vigil for peace in Syria, held in Gaza in March 2013. – From Oxfam blog.

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

I was chopping zuchinni and bell peppers on Tuesday afternoon when I learned that the United States was considering a military strike on Syria. Standing in my kitchen, tuned into National Public Radio, I heard US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announce that the US was “ready to go” when it comes to launching a military response to the alleged use of chemical weapons on the people of Syria.

“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” Hagel told BBC News.

I tuned into the broadcast for the next 45 minutes, uneasy in my belly, focused in my brain, open in my heart. 

“We can’t go without a reaction when confronted with chemical weapons.  It must be punished, it cannot remain without consequences.”

What is the response of a person of faith to such information? What is the call for a woman of compassion, a man of prayer, a person concerned for all of creation when confronted with news of war and retaliation?

A week earlier, I had read about the suspected use of chemical weapons in the attacks outside Damascus and watched as print media published images of the victims. Updated death tolls are staggering: 1,429 people killed, including 426 children.

It’s heart-wrenching, this news, these horrific, unfathomable kinds of crimes against humanity —  the consequences of a people at war.

As our leaders discern an appropriate response, my faith, education and imagination brings me into questions of next steps alongside those of our world’s leaders.

I wonder:

What is the root cause of this Civil War in Syria?
Who are the factions that are sparring?
What are their needs?Wants?
What is the role of any onlooker, any leader, any humanitarian, any relative outside this war zone?
What does it mean to answer a chemical weapons attack or provide further consequences?
Can we put out a metaphorical fire with more fire?
What would a teacher or middle school principal do if this was a hateful attack in his or her hallway?
What would a prophetic, unpopular Christ request in the face of such venomous activity?

I get to the hopeful, bottom-line of my prayerful inquiry and ask:
What response would transform the circumstances and foster an environment for peace, well-being, and thriving for all involved? 

Is it radical to not want to retaliate on the persons responsible for using chemical weapons? To assert that consequences are unnecessary, because they already naturally exist in the warring heart, the warped leadership, the sad, and terribly hurt humans at the helm of this Syrian regime, and the countless dead.

Nothing will bring back the dead.

But, as a world of resourced humans,  we are able to address the needs and wants of the people on the ground. And we are able to respond with compassion. With diplomacy. With love. With our faithful human witness to the atrocities that have preceded and included these attacks.

I pray about what’s next and I ask you to join me.

Will you hold space for a non-violent response to the already at war and weaponized world? Will you help me seek solutions that honor the dignity and God-given gifts of all involved? Will you help me see the face of Christ in each person, from the Syrian President and Defense Minister to each citizen of this Middle East Region,  to the US and British and French leaders, to the Russian and Chinese and Iranian allies, to those at the helm of Al-Quaeda?

Will you help me “Live + Jesus”?

“Keeping God at the Center” – Welcome Vis Companion Phil Soucheray to the Blog!

Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion, Blogger

Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion, Blogger

Hi there.

My name is Phil. I’m a Vis Companion, which is another way of saying that I am a purpose driven life wanna-be who knows he has a lot to learn before he’s fulfilled his potential.

As it happens, I believe the model of Salesian spirituality as displayed and taught by the sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis offers me the education I need to keep me moving toward my ultimate objective. As it also happens, I have been at my efforts long enough to know that I am not likely to ever get there in this life. But I’m here to tell you that it’s all about the adventure anyway, so I carry on carrying on.

I also have the audacity to think that I have some ability in the way of communication (and apparently I’ve managed to hoodwink the good sisters into thinking the same thing), so I have been invited to contribute to this blog on occasion.

As with anything that is new, I have no idea where this endeavor will take me. For all I know it could stretch me to a point where I end up feeling like Elastic Man of comic book fame. Hopefully, my musings will be engaging enough to attract your attention and perhaps provoke you in ways that stretch you, too.

If you are familiar with the roots of Salesian spirituality you know that one of the foundational tenets is that living a devout life, one that puts God at the center of things, isn’t something reserved for priests and religious. No, St. Francis and St. Jane hold to the line that every person, in every walk of life, is called to a devout life and can live one if they maintain a practice of prayer and contemplation that keeps God at the center.

If you’re like me, though, you find it to be a challenge to keep that focus. In a world where we are faced with an ever-growing array of informational inputs it’s easy to become distracted by all the noise. Because of that, I have found that I need to regularly stop and simplify. You’ll likely see me touching on this theme a lot as I continue blogging here. And here’s my first little reflection.

When disrupted by distractions, I try to employ a basic rule of meditation which is, have a mantra and, amid the hubbub, redirect your mind to it. For what it’s worth, here’s my mantra.

“Love God. Live Jesus.”

For me, it doesn’t get any simpler than that. Easy to remember. Easy to get my head around. And to this point, I think those four words have provided good curbs as I walk the road toward living out the purpose for which I believe I was made.

What works for you? Maybe by sharing our stories with each other we’ll all move ahead.