From the Prioress

Rite of Entrance into the Novitiate: Jennifer Frazer
May 2, 2020

May 2, 2020

This weekend we hear one of the most loved Gospel parables that uses the analogy of sheep and a shepherd. This parable would be easily understood by the disciples of Jesus’ time. And we, too, have all come to understand and value its message.

I recently read Paulo Coelho’s outstanding work, The Alchemist. From this international Brazilian writer, the book has sold over 65 million copies in over 60 languages. Its story’s power is based on the simple fact that it touches the universal understanding of finding your place in life, and of discovering some of life’s mysteries, as well.

In the same vein, couldn’t we say that monastic life, and particularly the novitiate year, is on the same journey? For the Christian and for Benedict, all of life is a journey into God.

The alchemist story introduces us to Santiago, a young man who has spent two years as a shepherd in his native Spain. He enjoys his work. He has learned everything he can about sheep and the pastures and fields in the area that he travels daily. He knows each sheep by name and cares for them and their welfare–even reading aloud to them from his ever-present book. Santiago also knows the economic realities of shearing them for the sale of their wool and, when the time comes, even the buying and selling of the sheep themselves.

But, something has come into Santiago’s peaceful and predictable life: a recurring dream. Finally it is too great to ignore and Santiago sets out to follow that dream–to find a buried treasure. Along the way, with the guidance of many fascinating people he meets, including a renowned alchemist, he learns that his real quest is to pursue what Coehlo calls his “Personal Legend” and in the process, interact with “The Soul of the World.”

Doesn’t this sound familiar? The monastic professes to enter into this journey, within a community while on their personal and communal search for God

There is what we would call a “happy ending” to the story, or phrased more accurately, Santiago grows in his understanding of life, generally, and, specifically, of his own life.

In the epilogue we find him returning home after many, many adventures, lessons and observations, to indeed find his treasure there, both literally and spiritually.

One piece of advice that the alchemist shares with Santiago was this: “In order to arrive, you must follow the signs. God inscribed on the world the path that each must follow. It is just a matter of reading the inscription God wrote for you.”

The reading we just heard–the beginning of Chapter 10 in John’s Gospel–has a little twist that I didn’t notice at first. In this passage, Jesus does not refer to himself as the shepherd. He refers to himself as the gateway, “I am the gate for the sheep…Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

Jen, I see this novitiate year as your own entrance by this gate. Your going in and coming out will lead you, I know, to the pasture which is your journey through life, a journey into God.

The novitiate is a very unique time in the life of a monastic woman. It is a time to spend being conscious of and enjoying God’s presence. It is a time for increasing the novice’s relationship with God and with the community. It is a time for engaging more deeply in every aspect of community life‒especially getting to know the sisters in a more individual way.

The novitiate is a time to pray for the wisdom of the Spirit to guide you in all that you
do now and that you will do in the years to come. These days will be filled with much study and learning, that will be used by you to find Coehlo’s “Personal Legend” or as we might say it, your own call in life, that path you were born to take.

You are called to follow Jesus, who is the shepherd. You are called to respond and to care for the People of God, for the needy and poor among us–with those to whom we minister and with those we encounter everywhere.

I know that I speak for all of our sisters when I say that we feel deeply blessed by the presence of true “seekers” in our midst. Your desire to explore the monastic life in this community encourages and inspires us and brings us great hope and joy.

We welcome you into the novitiate, Jen.
May you be open to all that you will be offered and all that you will find there.
May you always value community life, prayer and ministry as your greatest gifts to share with your sisters and with the world.

May God bless you, today and always.

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.