Solemnity of Benedict (Transitus) 2016

Solemnity of Benedict (Transitus) 2016

Happy Feast Day everyone, and a special welcome to our oblates and friends who are able to be with us this evening.

Today I would like to share a few thoughts on two pieces I have read and pondered recently. Today’s reading from Ephesians supports the same ideas.

The first one is from a Chapter of the Rule that we hear this week with our Morning Praise. It is Chapter 52, “The Oratory of the Monastery.” The first line in this chapter of just four sentences is: “The oratory ought to be what it is called, and nothing else is to be done or stored there.” It is not surprising that this passage strikes me at this time.

From the beginning of Holy Week through the present, it seems as if we’ve “lived” here in the oratory. Palm Sunday, the Holy Week rituals and liturgies of the Triduum, our Tenebrae prayer and the celebration of Easter itself were beautiful, full of meaning and spirit and life. They brought many family, friends and visitors together into this chapel as a celebrating community.

Without as much as a pause, the Easter season and its psalms and hymns were intertwined with two celebrations into new life with the Liturgy of Christian Burial for Sr. Kathleen Warner and oblate Ann Kosin.

Finally with the unusually early Easter date this year, the March solemnities of the Annunciation and the Passing of Benedict have been transferred into this Second Week of the Easter season.

If the oratory “ought to be what it is called,” a place of prayer, I think that our chapel ─ our oratory ─ has more than lived up to that name during these last few weeks; and we are extremely grateful for the communities that have come together in all of these moments to praise and rejoice, worship and commemorate such special occasions.

My second thought comes after reading Beauty’s Field by the British Benedictine Laurence Freeman. In this 2014 book, subtitled “Seeing the World,” Freeman shares short but powerful pieces from his columns for The Tablet magazine that he wrote as he traveled the world as the director of the World Community for Christian Meditation. One that caught my attention was the chapter from his visit to an isolated mining town in Northern Queensland, part of what they call “the Outback” in Australia. While there he experienced two events that came from the traditions of the place. He wrote, “At every event in Australia now the participants are ‘welcomed’ to the land on which it is happening by a representative of its original tribal owners.” He reminds us that Australia is the planet’s oldest continent but has been the victim of irreversible damage to the native people over the last 200 years. This special welcoming is one of the many ways present-day Australia is recognizing and trying to reclaim its own story.

The second experience he had was learning about dadirri (de-dear’-ee)*. “This is a contemplative spirituality of a people with an ancestral memory of 40,000 years.” Dadirri requires listening‒silently‒to both the land and its inhabitants. Could this not be another expression in line with our Benedictine value of listening, too? After a presentation on meditation, a woman, an Aborigine who was also Christian, came up to Laurence and shared her realization that what the Aborigine people had been “listening to” for 40,000 years was the Word of God sounding through creation. Finally, at his closing liturgy in Sydney he met a high school senior. In the course of conversation she told him what some of her life goals were. High on that list was this one: “I wish to be a local.”

I think we Benedictines might call that “stability.” To care about, to look after, to be a real “part of the place” where we are: its land, its people, its history, its heritage, its future. And this brings me around again to the reading of the Rule this week. Through our good works and through our daily prayer, our Eucharistic liturgies, our funerals and other celebrations in this chapel we offer one of our great contributions to this area of the world ‒ we are “local.” The Rule and the scripture call us to stability, to stand firm and draw our strength from God.

Sister Anne Wambach, OSB, the twenty-first prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania is a native of Philadelphia. She moved to Mount St. Benedict Monastery in 1992 to respond to a desire to experience the monastic way of life. Previously a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill, Sister Anne began the formal transfer process to the Erie Benedictines in 1993 and made her monastic profession in 1997.

Sister Anne has served the people of the Diocese of Erie as a teacher at St. Gregory's School in North East, Pa., from 1992-1995, and at the Neighborhood Art House in Erie, beginning as program director in 1995 and as executive director since 2005. She served on the Monastic Council from 2006-2010.