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.

Welcome Sr. Brenda!

Welcome Brenda LIsenby to the Novitiate

Welcome Brenda LIsenby to the Novitiate! (Click for more pix.)

Join us in welcoming Brenda Lisenby formally into the Novitiate! (This is a period of 2 years of more intense study of the vowed life in the Order of the Visitation). Click to see photos taken Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at a private morning ceremony. Brenda received the following gifts: a medal of the Visitation; a candle as reminder of her Baptismal vocation (which is all of ours); copies of our Constitution (rule of life) and Companion to the Constitution (a contemporary articulation of the rule of life).

Live+Jesus!

 

Flickr Photo Album: Welcome Sr. Brenda Lisenby!

Smoke Signals, the Holy Spirit and Next Steps…

Smoke Signals: Cardinals are Voting to Elect a New Pope

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

What does the future hold? What does the life of a religious look like moving into this next year, decade, century? What roles do the laity play in fashioning or supporting the presence of a monastic community in the inner city? In the larger world? How is the Holy Spirit leading us all in this season of change and growth?

These are some of my questions as I sit down to pray and reflect this day.

In Rome, the cardinals are discerning the start of their next conclave to elect a new pope for the Catholic church. These religious men are meeting and talking and praying. They are listening to their hearts, tuning into the needs of the church, and leaning into the Holy Spirit, as She calls them to whatever is next. They are prayerfully discerning what and who will be part of their — OUR — future as Catholics.

And I wonder how this is similar to us, here, in Minneapolis, as we prepare for our next prayerful meeting on Wednesday evening reflecting on our future. While we are not electing a new leader to the Visitation Sisters of north Minneapolis — the convening of our sisters, vocation partners, and companions with questions of our next steps –feels connected to the discerning papal energy in Italy, and the palpable energy that must be the Spirit among us.

“What’s next?”

Last week, in Pope Benedict XVI’s final speech to the College of Cardinals, he offered the following words that inspired me. Quoting Romano Guardini, the Pope said:

Guardini says: “The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ.”

Pope Benedict goes on to apply this to his peers:

This was our experience yesterday, I think, in the square. We could see that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit, and truly lives by the power of God, She is in the world but not of the world. She is of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, as we saw yesterday. This is why another eloquent expression of Guardini’s is also true: “The Church is awakening in souls.” The Church lives, grows and awakens in those souls which like the Virgin Mary accept and conceive the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. They offer to God their flesh and in their own poverty and humility become capable of giving birth to Christ in the world today. Through the Church the mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through all times in all places.

These words from the Holy Father take me to some recently written by the head of the Visitation Community –Sr. Mary Frances Reis, vhm.  In a recent email about our Visitation newsletters, Sr. Mary Frances expressed this aliveness of our community and its change and growth since our founding on the northside 20+ years ago. She wrote: “We have been publishing our monastic newsletter for 23 years now.  As [our Jesuit friend] Jim Radde has commented and continues to comment, ‘Go back and read the letters from the beginning, and you will discover how the Spirit’s work among us has evolved.’” She continues, “I personally believe that this has been a wonderful way to keep folks that do not ‘come and see’ to be apprised of the Spirit’s work here.  If you go back to look at about the last 5 newsletters (published on the website) you will see many articles by the laity to inform our many constituents, friends and benefactors  of our ‘ever expanding community.'”

And so it goes. And so it shall be. The Holy Spirit will guide us and animate our beings as we respond to the call of our founders, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, “living Jesus!” as holy men and women in our present circumstances envisioning our diverse monastic community in north Minneapolis. Please keep us in prayer as we convene and discern!

Readying our Hearts for Lent: Words from St. Francis de Sales

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“The desert experience begins by calling one out of the world. Salesian experience does not. For [St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales] the location of that process is first and foremost interior. It is hidden in the heart.” Introduction to the Letters of Spiritual Direction p. 54

On Wednesday, February 22, 2012, we begin our Lenten journey. As individuals, and as a large Catholic faith community, we lean into this season, embracing Christ’s journey to the desert as our own. We empty ourselves and tune into our poverty, our longing, our desire, our suffering, and become more vulnerable as we examine our very humanity and our need for God.

Well, in theory that’s what we all do, right?

In my own pre-Mardi-Gras preparation for this Lenten journey, I turned to our Visitation co-founders, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, for a little inspiration and guidance. Opening their “Letters of Spiritual Direction”, (translated by Péronne Marie Thibert, VHM, with an introduction by Wendy Wright and Joseph S. Powers, OSFS; and preface by Fr. Henri Nouwen),  I landed upon some Salesian material in the Introduction to the book that really resonated with me and struck me as particularly “lenten.”   Theme V of Francis and Jane’s letters, as the authors point out,  focuses on the heart-centered nature of their spirituality. The chapter begins with these words by St. Francis:

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

“Since the heart is the source of all of our actions, as the heart is, so are they.” (Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life III, 23)

The authors go on to define “classic desert spirituality” here and the “extent to which its focus is on the exterior dimensions of spirituality (as opposed to Francis’ attention to the interior).  As indicators of the transformation of the person,  one fleeing society has exterior markers; these include entering a monastery, donning the habit, taking a new name, and being celibate.  Salesian spirituality, on the other hand is first and foremost distinguished as rooted in the interior life, the heart.* (And, I might note, something the laity might aspire to as well as the religious.)

Authors Dr. Wendy Wright and Joseph Powers, OSFS, explain:

“The desert experience begins by calling one out of the world. Salesian experience does not. For Madame de Chantal and the Monseigneur of Geneva the location of that process is first and foremost interior. It is hidden in the heart. It is only after the slow and dramatic change of person has been engraved in the center of one’s being that the issue of that metamorphosis can be seen.  To impress this idea on his readers, Francis relied upon the metaphor of the almond tree (an image shaped by the particular botanic knowledge of his day.)”

To quote Francis de Sales then:

“Men engaged in horticulture tell us that if a word is written on a sound almond seed and it is placed again its shell, carefully wrapped up and planted, whatever fruit the tree bears will have that same writtten word stamped on it. For myself…I cannot approve the methods of those who try to reform a person by beginning with external things, such as bearings, dress or hair. On the contrary, it seems to me that we should begin inside. ‘Be converted to me with your whole heart,’ God said. ‘My child, give me your heart.’  Since the heart is the source of actions, as the heart is, so are they…

For this reason…..I have wished above all else to engrave and inscribe on your heart this holy, sacred maxim, LIVE JESUS! I am sure that your life, which comes from the heart just as the almond tree comes from its seed, will after that produce all its actions — which are its fruits — inscribed and engraved with this sacred word of salvation.”

May you travel to the desert of your own heart this Lent.

May you travel to the desert of your own heart this Lent.

****

It is my hope that this reflection inspires your journey into Lent, tending to your interiors, to your hearts; may a desert of contemplation and sincerity be cultivated in the midst of your present surroundings. May you know and trust the Divine source of Love that exists in your heart and guides you daily.

Happy Lenten Journey! LIVE JESUS!

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*I invite you all to turn to page 54 of this text and simply read the first page of this section of the book — as my attempts to summarize will undoubtedly do injustice to our authors’ work. (Amazon will let you read this online for free by clicking here.)