In Solidarity with the Sisters: Silent prayer

S. Katherine on Retreat at ARC

S. Katherine on Retreat at ARC

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion 

“There is a healthy silence that heals and bonds us all.” — S. Mary Margaret McKenzie

The Burkinabe freedom seeker with his fist in the air. The Syrian mother lowering her babe into a boat. Pope Francis lifting the Eucharist at mass in Cuba. The police officer turning on his siren and lights just a few blocks away. The principal at my daughter’s school reaching for my kindergartner’s hand to walk her inside.  A quiet woman standing before a slow moving stream. These are images that come to mind in my prayer this day.

Sitting on the front porch of my Selby Avenue home in St. Paul, I hold a prayerful space alongside and for the Visitation Sisters who are on retreat this week. I’m in silent solidarity with all. No matter the distance, or circumstance, we are all bound up in this mystical body of Christ – in our common humanity, with our beating hearts, breathing bodies, seeking spirits. And it is a loving silence which unites and heals us all.

“Silence makes us whole if we let it.  Silence helps draw together the scattered and dissipated energies of a fragmented existence.”
– Fr. Thomas Merton Love and Living.

In a prayerful meditation on silence last spring, S. Mary Margaret described a quiet that unifies and bonds us; a silence where wholeness is revealed, compassion and reconciliation germinate.  I was in the living room at Fremont House with a group of other lay men and women discerning community life alongside the Visitation Sisters in North Minneapolis. S. Mary Margaret’s meditations struck a deep chord in me. I scribbled her words onto a slip of paper: “There is a healthy silence that heals and bonds us all.” 

The Visitation Sisters’ community is immersed in quiet this week: on the second floor of Girard, on the back porch at Fremont; up at the ARC retreat center; over in Collegeville; lakeside at a friend’s cabin; down in Fairbault. Each sister is entering into the fullness of silence — in that echoic room of her heart where God’s voice booms, Love pierces and connects all things — and softens all stances into a compassionate embrace.

In my own attempted practice of daily silence or stillness on my front porch, I have these fleeting glimpses of unity. I can travel around the world, into the darkest corners of my own neighborhood, contemplate the warring factions of humanity riddled by poverty and hunger, a desire for power, or freedom. I can see these across the river in Minneapolis, in my husband’s home country of Burkina Faso, in the headlines reporting on the Middle East, and inside my own beating heart.

The silence doesn’t scare me. It’s a silence that invites me. It’s a silence that contains all the ills and joys of the world, and melds them into a wholeness, a reconciled beauty that I have few words for, save Love.

I invite you into this meditation today, into solidarity with our Sisters on retreat. Can you carve five minutes of quiet in your day?  Find a spot in your home, in your car, on your block; in your church, temple, mosque, in a park, in a space you might claim as sanctuary? Go inside your heart. Find the beating, pulsing reality of your interior being. Ask for God to show you Love’s peace, Love’s will, Love’s desire for you this day.

Will you join me and the Sisters in prayer?

The Francis Effect – Reflection

Aimee Fritsch, Visitation Resident Lay Community

Aimee Fritsch, Visitation Resident Lay Community

by Guest Blogger Aimee Fritsch*

Oh my goodness, why does the Pope make me cry?

That crossed my mind more than once as my eyes watered up, sitting in the St. Jane House, watching the documentary “The Francis Effect”. The eyes of the world are on him, and I think what keeps us entranced, what fills my heart and my tear ducts, is the love with which he moves through the world.

Pope Francis has the heart of Christ, bringing love and tenderness to people around the world, especially those who are typically unloved. He is living the story of the Gospel, light breaking through into darkness, in a fresh, new 21st century way.

It is so beautiful, and so needed, so to see this loving light, well, it brings me to tears.

 

*Meet Aimee Fritsch

My name is Aimee Fritsch, I’m a graduate student at U of M in the Masters of Urban & Regional Planning Program, and a founding member of the Visitation Lay Residential Community. I first met the sisters when they showed up on my doorstep with peaches & brownie mix when I was a Jesuit Volunteer.

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Join the Visitation Sisters and Lay community for this Fall’s Salesian Monday series focusing on Catholic Social Teaching and the Two Francises: Pope Francis and St. Francis de Sales!

Welcome! To the founding of our Resident Visitation Lay Community

By S. Mary Margaret McKenzie

Heidi shares in Phase II resident lay community conversations

Heidi shares in Phase II resident lay community conversations

If the following characteristics gathered during Phase II discussions of the Resident Visitation Lay Community Invitation inspire and call you, think about, pray about commitment:

  • Relational, by being residential and in the midst of the neighborhood;
  • Mutual, in living as well as in decision-making;
  • Dedicated, to Gospel living through the lens of love inspired by Salesian spirituality;
  • Stable, through the stability of a life lived by “being where you are and being there well”;
  • Prayerful, in personal prayer and solitude to “know who you are and be that well”;
  • Prayerful, in communal prayer with faith sharing for support in laying down life in the dailiness and ordinariness;
  • Diverse, by living into and learning that diversity is our most valuable resource for moving us into the oneness into which we are baptized;
  • Inclusive, in respecting all others by affirming their dignity and creating a place for their belonging in the oneness with which God gifts us.
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S. Mary Frances shares during a Phase II conversation

Possible ways the Sisters might support the common good could include providing a facilitator for communication; installing a security system; forming a 501c3; exploring medical insurance; funding community educational opportunities. Community members would be responsible for funding their own lifestyle, housing, utilities, transportation, and insurance. The lay community’s presence in the neighborhood would require ongoing study of resources and learning from the neighbors in order to facilitate connectedness in north Minneapolis. In living near to us, they would join us for prayer when possible, enjoy an occasional dinner, participate in Salesian studies and other related topics along with reviewing the Sisters’ call to affirm the place of the laity.

The call gleaned by the Sisters from the Phase I listening sessions added depth to the vision of a residential Visitation Lay Community and is very specific:

  1. To strengthen their legacy from Francis de Sales that “all are called to holiness;”
  2. To support the laity in a way of evangelization for our time;
  3. To affirm the moral authority of the laity;
  4. To be with the laity in their leavening-living of the Kingdom in the church and in the world;
  5. To be and to model conversion from separation to communion;
  6. To pass on to others their faith in the future of the church.

Phase II closed with a bonded community, all its own, creating a clear pathway to founding a residential Visitation Lay Community while holding the vision with heart and hope.

 

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This is reprinted from our Summer 2015 newsletter. To read the initial invitation and proposal, click here.

Community Prayer: Welcome to North!

WELCOME TO NORTH / story from Chitwood Media on Vimeo.

Since December of 2014, we have been convening a group of women and men who are discerning their calls to co-found a Resident Visitation Lay Community alongside us in north Minneapolis.

Some of the questions we are wrestling with include:
What is the call of the laity? What does it mean to be community? How do we “live+Jesus”, as our founders said, in north Minneapolis? How are stability and freedom, the Spirit and one-ness part of our calls to be present in this economically and culturally diverse place?

On Sunday, May 31, 2015,  S. Mary Margaret creatively launched our discerning-community-gathering with a prayer using two videos.    These short, award-winning films, playing here, were produced by our friends Morgan and Josh Chitwood. We invite you to watch them and hold us -and our discerning friends- in prayer.

Together, may we rise up to meet the joyful challenges of founding this new community and living responsively to the call of the Spirit and the union of beloved community that Jesus calls us all to in his name.

Will you join us in prayer?

THE LAST PRAYER / story from Chitwood Media on Vimeo.

Visitation Resident Lay Community: “Phase Two” Under Way

by S. Mary Margaret McKenzie, VHM

What is contemplative presence?

Heidi shares during Phase II conversations

During “Phase One” we gathered listening groups from our various constituents. As we listened, the Sisters’ own call to foster an intentional, residential Visitation community of the laity was more clearly defined by the dedication of the laity to strengthening the church today. The multiple, practical questions we heard in considering the possible lived-experience has guided us into “Phase Two.”

“Come as you are to live communally in north Minneapolis.”

Those who had participated in our listening sessions and who seemed open and interested without yet moving to commitment, were invited back to help formulate “Phase Two.” Beginning in December 2014, there have been fourteen who gather every other Sunday afternoon from 2:00- 4:00. These individuals are mature, experienced, gifted and diverse in age and background. They seem to share easily and in depth with one another, and have increasingly begun to show leadership. They have already expressed interest in what and where living together would look like. Their non-negotiables are family, pets, no-pets when there is allergy, and important dietary needs. After talk- ing about the essentials of commu- nity they decided to be guided by the Seven Essentials that the Sisters have gleaned from the experience of living their Constitutions in the modern world: prayer, community, recreation, silence, presence, conversion and hospitality.

What a privilege and blessing it is to come together to flesh out the legacy of Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal, sharing with optimism and joy the good news of the Gospel that God’s love is at home with our humanness in the life of Jesus and with us as we “Live Jesus!”

 

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This is reprinted from our Winter 2015 newsletter. To read the initial invitation and proposal, click here.

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….

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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!

 

Q & A with a Sister: On Vow Renewal

S Mary Frances first profession

Sr. Mary Frances Reis, 1957

On Friday, November 21, the Visitation Sisters will renew their vows publicly at a mass and celebration. In preparation for this event, blogger and Companion Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde had an opportunity to ask Sister Mary Frances Reis about this process of  of vow renewal. What follow is their Q and A.

Q: Sister Mary Frances, what year did you enter the Visitation Monastery?

SMF: I entered in 1957.

Q: In a sentence or two, how would you characterize that period in the Catholic church?

SMF: This time of 1957-62 was a time of sensing that the Holy Spirit was in the air. The churches were pretty into the ‘way we’ve always done it’ and then ‘whoosh’!!!  the Holy Spirit took over and John XXIII opened the windows of the Church and let in lots of fresh air!  So I would say that I and my confreres were precursors of the Renewal…kind of on the threshold of big changes in the Church.  Things changed radically in the next few years.

Sr. Mary Frances Reis, 1962

Sr. Mary Frances Reis, 1962

Q: When did you profess final vows?

SMF: I professed my final vows in 1962.  This was preceded by a year of postulancy, and year of novitiate, and 3 years of temporary vows.  These years were a sort of “engagement time” with lots of formation in the life and discernment along the way.

Q:  Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience are the vows that Visitation Sisters profess when they commit their lives to the Order.  Can you give us simple definitions, in your own words?

SMF: Poverty-Having all things in common as in the early Church.  Simplicity of life.  Sharing what we have.  

Chastity-this is the vow to LOVE.  I have always observed this vow as a call to relationship….I have had thousands of children as an educator, and in this neighborhood.   Sexuality is a precious gift, and through the many celibate relationships that I have had with both sexes, I have learned to love well.

Obedience-Root word is listening.  Listening to the Spirit in my deepest center, in that of the community and my superiors assists me in becoming who I am and becoming that well.

Q: When Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal first established the Visitandines, they wanted only one vow, the vow of love. How do you embrace this vow and the ultimate shift to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience?

 SMF: As I ‘mature’ in my vowed life it becomes quite simple.  LOVE covers all the vows.  The three vows simply particularize ways to LOVE.

Q: I have heard stories about the ritual of having a burial cloth placed over you when a woman professed final vows as a religious — indicating a sort of death to your old individual self and identity. Can you tell me about this?

SMF: I loved the ritual of going under the pall. This is the way it worked:  on the day of vows, various Sisters gave me their prayer intentions on little slips of paper.  I put them in my big habit pocket.  It was a profound experience of community at its deepest level with all those intentions in my pockets-a reminder that WE are in this together.  Yes, it was a ritual of ‘death’ to self, but also a commitment to community.  I’m kind of a romantic at heart, but I did love the drama of this!

Q: Can you describe any private or public ritual you participate in now?

SMF: Ritual for Vows…We renew our vows once a month in community and once a year publicly.

Q: Tell me about the significance of  November 21st  as your annual date of public vow renewal.

SMF: The 21st of November is the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple;  it is a Memorial and not a Feast in the universal Church, but Jane and Francis chose this in its littleness…We make it a Feast!

Vis Sisters Cropped Capri

The Visitation Sisters, 2014. (Sr. Mary Frances is second from left.)

Q: How have the circumstances of living your vows changed as you made your way to this year of re-commitment?

As I renew my vows this year, I am more and more aware that I am one of the BAPTIZED — as is every baptized person.  We are all living out our Baptismal promises to be “Priest, Prophet and Queen.”  I love that I share this will all women, men and children…..

Q: What do you do to prepare for vow renewal?

Preparation takes place 3 days prior…We call it a ‘little retreat.’  It is a time to reflect more deeply on our lived experience and listen to the Spirit’s promptings in this life She has chosen for us.  To me the vows in any walk of life are expressions of God’s fidelity to US!

Q: What advice or thoughts do you have for other women and men who have professed promises or vows, for renewing them? Why do this?

Anniversaries are important……Taking time to reflect on our promises and how we have chosen to make life’s journey is essential.  We have ONLY ONE LIFE!!!  Live it well!

Q: As you invite people to “come as they are to live community in north Minneapolis” and found a Resident Lay Community alongside the Visitation Sisters, what would you say about vows, or commitments,  to inspire someone in their listening and discernment?

SMF: Francis and Jane would applaud our endeavors to found a resident lay Visitation Community!!!  They are excited and so are we!