Little Visits

Our convent is right across the yard from our workplace, so it’s easy to go back and forth, even during the daytime, if necessary.  Today, I took advantage of this proximity more than usual.

10-9-2013-wooden-spoon As you may have heard, we’ve had an abundance of apples this year.  We saved some of the juice to make jelly.  The ingredients and utensils were all ready for me at the house, so I decided to do the project there.  I did this between my other duties this morning.

p1010007I went back after dinner to finish cleaning up, and ended up doing more than I’d bargained for today.  I had some extra time this afternoon, and have plans for tomorrow, so I ended up carving our two big pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns.

To make a long story short and get to my point, I ended up making several trips to and from our convent during the course of this full, interesting day.

Lately, I’ve been reading an excellent anthology of writings (from the early Church Fathers to present day) on the Eucharist.  The inspiring words of this book have yet strengthened a practice I already do regularly: that of making a “little visit” to the Blessed Sacrament.

We have a little chapel in our convent.  Whenever I go home, be it to make apple-cherry jam or attend to some other little detail, it only seems right to pay a visit to Jesus in our little tabernacle.  It would seem rude, to me, to come to a home and not even bother to say hello to the master of the house.

Usually, my ‘little visit’ is just a matter of coming the entrance of the chapel, genuflecting, and saying a short, spontaneous prayer.  Nonetheless, I feel I’ve done what is only proper, greeting our Master who so graciously blesses us with His presence in our little convent chapel.

Sr. Christina M. Neumann

“O Prosper the Work of our Hands!”

By Sr. Christina M. Neumann

This afternoon, I met with a woman regarding the Eucharistic Adoration program we host here at St. Anne’s Guest Home.

We worked on a couple of projects and both were pleased with the results.

We now have a newsletter for the program and have copies available in the chapel.  We also did a bit of planning for an upcoming article we hope to submit to our diocesan news magazine

As we were parting, I said to her, “Now we have to pray that it all bears fruit.”  A couple of psalm verses come to mind for me in all of this, including the one quoted in my title.

The other psalm (127) that comes to mind, bearing the sentiments which I felt this afternoon is:

dscn5033Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Unless the LORD guard the city,
in vain does the guard keep watch.

It is vain for you to rise early
and put off your rest at night,
To eat bread earned by hard toil—
all this God gives to his beloved in sleep.

All our efforts can be well and good, but without God’s blessing and guidance, what good are they going to be?   They can seem to be for a good cause, but I want to make sure I am doing them prayerfully and not just following my whims.

(As a religious Sister, too, I have to make sure that they are in line with what is asked in obedience.  I should not be taking on outside tasks apart from our apostolate without permission.)

I pray, as I alluded to with this woman today, that my work may bear good fruit, fruit guided and produced by God’s Spirit.  I echo the psalmist’s ancient prayer: “Prosper the work of our hands for us!  O prosper the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90)

Organized Chaos

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It happens every year!  The twenty-four hour (plus) period before the conclusion of our annual sale and luncheon Saturday afternoon feels like a whirlwind around St. Anne’s Guest Home where I work.

We are busy hanging tapestries, putting out cards and knick-knacks, putting up tables for displays, cutting out price stickers, and countless other little details in preparation for our annual Craft, Bake and Variety Sale.

A lot of other work has already been done.  Our activities staff have been busy organizing and displaying various articles.  I have been busy promoting the event (which is held in conjunction with our luncheon), and the three of us sisters have been making extra efforts to get towels embroidered for the sale.

I’ve come to refer to all of this hustle and bustle as “organized chaos.”  We are organized and pretty much know what we’re doing, but, all the preparations and all the extra people coming through our doors are enough to make your head spin.

We tell each other, with sincerity, “I’ll sure be glad when Saturday is over.”

If you live and town, and wish to experience “organized chaos” at its finest, just stop on over between 10:30 and 1 tomorrow.  I hear the cream of potato soup is delicious!

Free Refills

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The refrain for this Wednesday’s responsorial psalm is “you will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.”  However, that’s not what I had in mind when I set out to write this post on “free refills.”  This psalm does remind me of the Easter Vigil, where it is also sung, and the blessing of the baptismal font.  What a beautiful, meaningful passage!

What I had in mind is not nearly as beautiful.  In fact, my hands are presently rather a wreck as the result of my “free refills.”  They are discolored and have a couple nicks in them from processing lots and lots of apples.

~ ~ ~

A week or two ago, we processed almost 250 lbs. of apples.  Many of these went into many quarts (or should I say gallons?) of applesauce.  At the time, Sr. Rebecca went looking all over for enough containers in which to freeze it.

This past Sunday, our kitchen served pork chops, which are always accompanied by applesauce.  Therefore, late last week, I got a couple of large containers out of the freezer at the request of our dietary supervisor.

Earlier this week, she returned the empty containers to me.  However, I did not know where they went, so I left them out on a table until Sr. Rebecca returned and I could ask her.

apple sauce However, in the meantime, several more bags of apples came in, and I was in the sauce-making business again.  Quickly, it occurred to me that I had large containers handy to use.  “Free refills,” I thought!

So, I re-filled the containers with freshly-made sauce and put them in the freezer.

In the above-quoted passage, we are exhorted to “give thanks to the LORD, [and] acclaim his name.”  This I definitely want to do.

Along with apples, one thing I want to give thanks for is the willingness of some of our people here to help cut apples.

I would be hard-pressed to provide free refills without their help!

Sr. Christina M. Neumann

“The Inner Strength…”

Having typed (computerized) our Rule and Constitutions (as a postulant) and frequently listened to it read, I am quite familiar with many of the texts.

So it was that today, when making apple muffins with one of our residents here at St. Anne’s, a phrase came readily to my mind: “the joy that creative labor brings.”

I could tell my helper was having a good time, getting back to things she used to do with her “mamma.”  It was sweet and gratifying for me to see her enjoying herself.

Although there are certain principles that must be followed and recipes are very helpful, baking can be a ‘creative labor.’  This afternoon, both of us ‘tasted’ the joy that our Constitutions allude to.

I thought I’d look up this passage (I still have the file saved on my flash drive), and see in what context it was written.  The full text was touchingly fitting for this very busy day (complete with oodles of apples, receptionist duties, and a little dance for our residents).

The full passage reads:

The inner strength for effective activity and selfless service comes to us

  • from our encounter with Christ in Word and Eucharist.
  • from our experience of a genuine community in prayer, work and relaxation,
  • from our sense of responsibility to all those with whom we live and work,
  • from the joy that creative labor brings,
  • from the spiritual help of our sick and elderly Sisters,
  • from the life and example of the Saints.

I would not have thought of joy as a source of strength, but the writers of our directives must have seen a connection, for they included it as one of the noteworthy sources of strength.

As I prepare to work the night shift, after fruitless efforts to find a substitute for a sick aide, another passage comes to mind.  This one is from St. Paul’s writings: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
listen 012.JPGI thank Him for giving me the strength and grace to face each day as it comes, apples and all.

Sowing Seeds: Sister Edwardine Gerou

p1010007Sr. Edwardine, who lives at our provincial house in Hankinson, is celebrating!

Her birthday was this past weekend and her name day is around the corner.

On this occasion, we’ll share a little bit about our Sister, who was spent much of her life sewing and sowing seeds (physical and spiritual).

Sr. Edwardine was born and raised in Drayton, North Dakota.  She entered our congregation and made first profession in 1949 after having finished her schooling.

She was asked to work in our vestment department, where she did mostly embroidery to help keep up with all the orders received at the time.

During her 27 years working there, she also had other duties, including working with the resident students and teaching religion.  Sr. Edwardine also became the Religious Education Director for St. Philip’s parish, a role she held for 21 years.  In preparation for this, she studied doctrinal renewal at Narillac College in St. Louis, MO.

She also served two terms as local superior of the convent.

During her time in religious education, she helped cultivate seeds of faith in the hearts of young people.  Today she continues fostering growth, devoting much of her time to garden work for our provincial house and retreat center.

Although she just celebrated another birthday, Sr. Edwardine is quite adept at “staying young outside,” as she puts it.

“From the Heart of Blessed Mary…”

P1010020.JPGThis morning, at Mass, we closed with the well-known hymn, Sing of Mary.  Sister Elaine, the organist, intended to play a little postlude to the song, but things went a bit differently than she intended.

Possibly, different notes came out than she had planned on; whatever the case, the congregation interpreted it as the start of the third verse, for which cause I was happy.  I really like the third verse, which is a doxology to the Trinity.

I think the words are so beautiful:

Glory be to God the Father;
Glory be to God the Son;
Glory be to God the Spirit;
Glory to the Three in One.
From the heart of Blessed Mary,
From all saints the song ascends,
And the Church the strain reechoes
Unto earth's remotest ends.

Although I am not particularly fond a the hymn in general, the words of this final verse always stir my heart.  We are giving praise to God, which is wonderful, but it goes on further.  This last verse points out that this same hymn of praise is also rising “from the heart of Blessed Mary.”  It is a beautiful point to reflect upon.

Mary had a pure heart, untouched by sin.  What a pure and beautiful hymn of praise must come from her!   It is wonderful to think about our unity with “Blessed Mary” and all the saints in praising God.

I think of the words of the gospel about how she reflected on the mysteries of Christ’s life “in her heart.”

I pray, too, that from this pure, spotless heart, Mary may pray for me in her perfect way.  I, in all my need and imperfection, certainly stand in need of her motherly love and intercession.

When Families Meet

(This post is a continuation of my attempts to answer some recent questions posed to me about family and religious life.)

family-picture

Family photo during my postulancy

It was around the Feast of St. Francis, 2004, when my two ‘families’ met, you might say.

Sr. Sara Marie (who had been overseeing my first days ‘in the convent) and Sr. Donna (provincial superior at the time) drove me back to West St. Paul after several weeks of experiencing life with the Sisters.

At the time, my dad was finishing up his chemo treatments for cancer, and had little to no hair.  This made a definite impression on Sr. Donna; it was her first impression of him.

In preparing to answer the questions I shared earlier related to a Sister’s family, I got a little feedback from my own parents and sister.  My dad shared: “We were very supportive and extremely happy with the order [you have] chosen.  We’ve seen you blossom a lot during the years with the Franciscans.”

My parents have actually become good friends with the Sisters in Hankinson.  When I was a few hours further away in the novitiate in Rugby, North Dakota, this relationship blossomed.

My family was not permitted to visit during the intensive time of my “canonical year,” when we are given the opportunity to step away from the world and deepen our spiritual life.  Nonetheless, they made trips to Hankinson, helping with the Sisters’ big craft/bake sale and enjoying many games of Pinochle.  It has been neat to see how the Sisters and my parents have grown close, independent of me.  My mom shared her gratitude that they now “have a larger family with the Sisters included.”

Nowadays, I see my family more often.  We are offered two-weeks vacation each year, which includes our ‘home visit.’  My parents also are invited to visit when they choose.  Since my mom’s family is from north-central North Dakota, Grand Forks is not really out of the way for them if they go back to her home.  They usually stop through a few times a year.

A prayer we say upon the death of one of our Sisters is interesting to reflect on when thinking about familial relationships.  We pray: “Lord, Jesus Christ, you have promised one-hundred fold reward to all those who have given up claim to possessions and family for the sake of the kingdom…”

I think this is key; we have given up all claim.  Our relationships with our families now are not for our own sake.  Might I say, family relationships are now”for the sake of the kingdom.”  Everything we do now is to be for Jesus, our Spouse, so if I visit my natural family, or extend hospitality to them, it is for the sake of Jesus, loving Him in them.  After all, He said: “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

Sr. Christina M. Neumann

 

“Your Grandma Always Said…”

It’s interesting that within the course of a single day yesterday, I received some related questions from separate sources:

How did your family feel (and continue to feel) about your vocation ?  What is your relationship like?  When you decided to become a sister, did your family support you?  

These could provide fuel for a wealth of reflections, but, for some reason, the one thing that comes to mind is from a comment my grandpa made when I finally opened up about pursuing religious life.  (I’ll get back to these questions in the near future.)

~ ~ ~

It was a very unusual week in July, after my sophomore year in college.  I had first been alerted to my vocation about a year before, but did not want anyone to know, other than my mom in whom I had confided my ‘secret.’

Having been made vulnerable by an unexpected hospitalization, I was finally more open about what I believed God was calling me to: pursuing becoming a religious Sister.  Thus it was that I shared the news with my dad’s dad, my ‘Grandpa Neumann’ in my hospital room.   His response was “You’re grandma always said you’d be a sister.”

img_0896The crazy thing is that she knew, years before I did, what the Plan was.  And…I had never given it much thought before the previous summer, nor did I have any clue that she had such an awareness.  You might say it was one of the family’s ‘best kept secrets.’

The thing is, too, that I would never had guessed that my grandma would have said something like that.  She was a devout Catholic, but not one to be overly talkative about such things.

In the years since that time, I’ve wondered, How did she know?  What gave her that insight that even I lacked about myself?  I really haven’t come to any answer, but that’s okay.

Last evening, upon reflecting upon this further, the thought crossed my mind: So what did she do about it?  Did it affect how she prayed for me?  It’s interesting to consider.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offers a page of tips, prayers, and resources for families to promote vocations.  Prayer is, in fact, one of the main things that is stressed in fostering vocations.

Actually, our own Constitutions as Franciscan Sisters of Dillingen directs us that each Sister “persistently prays to the Lord to send laborers into His vineyard.”  We are also reminded, in the same section, that “the life and work of each Sister…can influence young persons in the choice of their vocation.”

Maybe my grandma did that, prayed for me and helped guide me without so many words, during the many interactions we had during my childhood…like sharing Sunday afternoons together while the men watched NFL football.

Sr. Christina M. Neumann, OSF