As a high school teacher, I am concerned about the level of attentiveness my students pay to their teachers and classmates. I wonder how often they are truly present to another, not to mention their own emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical needs.
Their cell phones have become so distracting that I fear they lack the social skills needed to develop personal relationships that are essential to living a full and rewarding life, not to mention becoming a valuable employee and citizen. Students have shared that their phones have become a tool to avoid fully engaging with others or the moment—when experiencing discomfort, their cell phones provide an escape.
I know this is not a phenomenon exclusive to teenagers—many adults struggle with respectful and appropriate use of technology as well. I need to practice awareness myself.
Each of the characters would have likely gone to their apartment for a meal alone if it not for the family who extended a hand of hospitality and an offer of a meal to include everyone.
Of course, we need our solitude, but how often do we consider the one who may need an invitation? Who needs to be accompanied? Who needs a meal? Or who has more than their fair share of solitude, and desperately needs to be noticed?
We must look up long enough from our cell phone, and all the distractions of a busy life, to remember the Benedictine value of practicing hospitality.
St. Benedict insisted that hospitality be one of the highest values for monasteries, writing “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” (RB 53:1) Being hospitable is our opportunity to respond to God’s great generosity towards us. Hospitality is being present to others—taking time to enjoy one another’s presence and being attentive to what the other is sharing.
The #EatTogether commercial is the brainchild of a Canadian company President’s Choice-NatureFresh Farms. Concerned with the challenging task families face with balancing work, activities, children, sports, and school combined with the increased use of technology, they hope to inspire families to remember the importance of eating meals together and extending that invitation to their community—in other words, practicing hospitality.
“The monastery was to be a place of comfort and of solace and of safety for everyone. The monastery was the place where anyone would be welcomed., where rich and poor alike could come and find seats side by side despite the world around them where status counted dearly and classism was a given.”—Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily
Offering a meal, listening, and paying attention to the present moment are all ways that we can be a monk in the world. We can offer comfort, solace, and safety for others. We can welcome all.
We can extend this hospitality for those people who are in our daily lives—at school, work, home, down the street—but we are also called to extend hospitality to “those living on the margins.” There is room at the table for everyone, as Carrie Newcomer writes—
“Let our hearts not be hardened to those living on the margins, There is room at the table for everyone. This is where it all begins, this is how we gather in, There is room at the table for everyone.
Too long we have wandered, burdened and undone, But, there is room at the table for everyone. Let us sing the new world in, this is how it all begins, There is room at the table for everyone.
Chorus: There is room for us all, and no gift is too small. There is room at the table for everyone. There’s enough if we share, come on pull up a chair. There room at the table for everyone.
How can you practice hospitality with your loved ones? At your workplace? In your neighborhood? With those marginalized?
*Photo in heading taken in Montes de Oca, Argentina with the Mogues family. The importance of the family and community meal has not been forgotten this family or country.
Hospitality can look different from one situation to another. It can be opening one’s home to another or serving a meal, but it can also be cracking a joke to break the ice or ease some tension. Humor is the hand of hospitality. Today I get my chance to practice.
Wednesday, June 19—This day begins with a trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, located in the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany. It is a well-known medieval old town, having survived the Thirty Years War and World War II (limited damage that was repaired). Rothenburg, a walled village with many towers, is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany.
In Rothenburg, there were many sites to see—churches, garden walks, spectacular views, quaint shops, many Christmas stores, a part Gothic/part Renaissance Town Hall, and beautiful fountains.
“Pilgrimage calls us to yield our own agendas and follow where we are being led.” —Christine Valters Painter, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within
Many times in the months leading up to the pilgrimage, I perused the informational brochure outlining where we would visit each day and where we would stay, anticipating the trip ahead. The pace and routine of the previous pilgrimage gave me a good idea of what to expect—but what is actually experienced lies in the gaps of the agenda, in the conversations and relationships with others, and in the details of the day that cannot be planned or controlled. This is where the grace of God enters—sometimes it is in the form of discomfort and challenges and other times in opportunities that new insights and “aha moments” of new understanding bring.
I am at a threshold, a doorway, entering into a time and space of letting go as I pray in my mantra—“Trust God, peace like a river flows.” I know that surrender can eventually bring peace, wonder, surprise, openness, vulnerability, and/or joy, but I also know that not surrendering can bring tension, worry, expectation, guilt, anger, resentment, and/or disappointment. I want to surrender to whatever the moment brings. And if and when those less desirable, more challenging moments come, I want to surrender self-judgment too. Ultimately, surrender is transformational—not in the moment, but over time. The experiences and the accompanying feelings will percolate over days, weeks, months, and begin to define a new part of my self.
“What’s your biggest takeaway?” many of my friends have asked.
My first thought is OMG, it was SO HOT!! How do people live without air conditioning?
The European heatwave made a big impression and impact, but it was only the last several days of our trip. There were many other takeaways that I will share as I travel through the itinerary in my reflections. Join me on the journey through Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the outer pilgrimage, and the inner pilgrimage as I share my biggest takeaways—
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he began, as we made the Sign of the Cross.
A few months after we had moved into our new home, one of my favorite monks, Fr. Thomas Leitner joined us for a special dinner and house blessing. After the introductory prayers and Scripture readings, Fr. Thomas sprinkled Holy Water that had been blessed at the Easter Vigil in each of our rooms—the living room, bedrooms, kitchen, upstairs, downstairs and even next door at Al and Beth’s house, our townhouse roofmates—and a little extra splash for our loyal Dachsy-Poo, Bailey. Our daughter, who was finishing her last year in college, would spend a few months living in our new home, but mostly it would become our empty nest. This blessing for our home was also a blessing for the next chapter in our lives.
Fr. Thomas also gave us a special gift, a replica of Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity Icon. An icon, an image or religious picture, communicates a deeper spiritual meaning often used in prayer and meditation for Christians throughout the world. It was a special image for him, used as the holy card for his ordination and First Mass in 1992.* He enthusiastically shared with us why he also felt it represented how we would welcome those who entered as guests and the hospitality we would extend in our new home. Continue reading “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ: Hospitality and The Holy Trinity”→
“We have gathered today to celebrate the union of Jessica Gehr and John Holland. Marriage is a sacred blessing and this morning we celebrate the love shared between two special individuals.”
–Joyce Schmeeckle, wedding officiant and dear friend
We gathered—John and Jessica’s community, their friends and family—to support and bless their marriage. A wedding day conjures images of hearts and flowers, vows and wedding rings, first kisses and champagne toasts. Marriage is a sacred commitment where two people commit to journey through life together, so it is appropriate that the focus of the day is on the bride and groom. It is their BIG DAY!!
My daughter, Jessica, had her fairytale, storybook, dream-come-true wedding on July 17, 2021, and yes, indeed, she married her Prince Charming—we absolutely love our new son-in-law, John, and are so grateful that he adores our daughter. I remember when my husband and I got married, there was very little choice in what the day would look like. Tradition said this, the parents said that, the Catholic Church said this…but what I loved about John and Jessica’s wedding is that they created their own ceremony and carefully planned what their first day as husband and wife would look like.
The wedding guests, John and Jessica’s community, were an integral part of their wedding day—from who the officiant was, to parts of the ceremony, to the events planned to celebrate after the wedding. As a Benedictine oblate, it reminds me that for St. Benedict, everything that is written in his Rule takes place within the context of community; whether giving instruction about prayer, relationships, or work, the monk is reminded he or she is a part of a community. It is through community, not just as monks or oblates but within families and our community of friends, that we grow in understanding of self and God and learn to love one another more deeply.
“Benedict’s genius was in recognizing the power of journeying together. There is power and empowerment, healing and strength in living together and recognizing our mutual interdependence.”
Judith Valente writes, “My friend Sister Thomasita Homan of Mount St. Scholastica once described a monastic community as ‘a place where people agree to link arms, support one another, and help each other grow’ (How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community).” The guests of John and Jessica’s wedding are linking arms with them, will support them, and as community does, will challenge them and help them grow.
When creating their wedding ceremony, John and Jessica carefully chose who would be part of the ceremony and the words that would be spoken. When they talked about who they wanted to marry them, they knew they wanted someone who shared their own spirituality and values and would deliver a message filled with insight and wisdom. They asked my own “anam cara,” soul friend, Joyce, who also hired Jessica for her first job in high school, quickly becoming a spiritual mentor to Jess as well. This is a newer phenomenon, to choose your own officiant, but my heart is full that they chose so wisely. (See script throughout this post.)
The ceremony also included a family blessing shared by each mother. I was deeply touched to be able to contribute some words about what I hoped John and Jessica’s marriage might hold for them. I shared the following blessing:
Blessing for John and Jessica Holland Wedding
When Jessica was just a toddler, I created a bedtime prayer that I blessed her with each night. Some nights, in a hurry, it was shortened to “God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. Amen.” But the lengthier version has remained my prayer for Jessica as she has grown up.
This special prayer I say now includes BOTH Jessica and John as they join their life together in marriage.
God bless Jessica, and John’s minds, so that they make good decisions and choices.
God bless Jessica and John’s bodies so that they grow strong and healthy and safe.
God bless Jessica and John’s spirit so that they know the love of God and others. Amen.
It is said that the only thing that prepares you for marriage, is marriage. It will not always be easy, but more often it will be better than you could have imagined. Every day you will make choices about what kind of person you want to be and the kind of relationship you will continue to build with God and each other.
A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage is not made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.
In your becoming, take time for solitude—pursuing your individual passions knowing you are always supported by the other. Listen with the ear of the heart, as St. Benedict writes, listening to each other’s words but also to what lies between the words, seeking to understand the silence too.
May you be patient with each other, keeping a sense of humor, apologizing, and forgetting quickly.
May you be a joyful giver and treat each hour as the rarest gift with gratitude for each other. May you build traditions and rituals that are uniquely yours as a couple.
May you have a marriage that embraces all seasons.
God Bless Jessica’s mind, body, and spirit.
God Bless John’s mind, body, and spirit.
God Bless the marriage of John and Jessica. Amen
A reading from Romans 12: 9-18, instruction for sharing love and hospitality both in marriage and in community, was followed by a message from Joyce. Friends and family were asked to participate in a community vow, agreeing to love and support John and Jessica in their marriage, offering them love and friendship.
This community vow mirrors the importance of The Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago as a guide for those who desired a spiritual life of prayer and work, learning to love others as Christ. It was not a guide for individual pursuits, but for living in community. It is a given that the community is important, an integral part of growing in holiness and happiness. John and Jessica see clearly that they have the support of friends and family, that they are part of a community that they will also share their gifts and hospitality with. This was followed by a moment of silent prayer for their marriage.
“The words community and communicate share the same Latin root. They are related by root to another word, compassion, which means to “suffer with”, or more loosely, to “walk beside.”
Judith Valente, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community.
John and Jessica have created a community that will walk beside them, people they have known all their life as well as those who they have met along the way. As a couple, they will continue to gather new friends as well. My husband gave a nod during his toast to all those in John and Jessica’s community who have helped them become who they are:
When you raise your kid, you hope to instill your hopes, dreams, and values in them and that when they go out into the world, they make all the right choices and remember the way they were raised. Lots of people have told Jodi and I what a great job we did in raising our daughter. That is partially true, but I think we learn and form who we are from those around us. Jessica and John have had many positive role models in their lives. They have taken a little bit of each one of those people to become who they are today. So, when people tell me, you did a great job in raising your daughter, it has as much to do with all the relationships she had with others. I want to thank everyone for helping me raise my daughter. Everyone here can take credit for the beautiful person she is today. Many can take credit for John being a kind, loving and caring person. They are who they are today because of all the people in their life.
“The Benedictine spirituality of community is based on life with other persons in the spirit of Christ: to support them, to empower them, and to learn from them.”
Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today
John and Jessica vow to journey through life together—to support and empower each other and to continue to learn and grow in their relationship. They are community to each other, first and foremost. I am so proud of and happy for them!
We are grateful that Jessica’s friend, Tarah, videotaped the wedding ceremony! You can watch the video HERE.
Choosing a word of the year can be a prayerful intention as well as creative expression. There is nothing magical about one word over another, but I find the process insightful and revealing—both spiritually comforting and challenging. I worked with the idea of doorways and thresholds for several weeks after realizing how many cards in my SoulCollage® collection had images of doors on them.
“Doors are places for pausing, of finding your key, of knocking, of asking for entry. Thresholds carry us from one place to another – usually from outside to inside or the other way around. They are symbols of our inner movements…. I believe that our lives are about crossing one threshold after another. Thresholds are challenging places to be because there is no map. There is no ten-step plan for how to move through this space. We feel disoriented there and impatient in having to wait.”
Christine Valters Paintner
I thought about selecting a word like welcome or becoming, or simply doorway or threshold. The images resonated, but the words were not quite right. I considered what it feels like to stand on the threshold of the unknown, to step through the doorway of uncertainty. The moment of crossing over can require courage, honesty, a surrendering, a willingness to be transformed.
“Our uncertainty is the doorway into mystery, the doorway into surrender, the path to God that Jesus called “faith.” -Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder
Extending hospitality to guests, as St. Benedict instructed in The Rule, can be practiced towards the uncertainty that life brings, the times when we can no longer control our circumstances and we must surrender our expectations. We can extend hospitality towards all that is mystery and trust that we will be transformed in the process. We may not know what we are walking into, but we can grow into acceptance of whatever comes.
“We need to honor what is on both sides of the doorway: to celebrate the whole of our lives, the self we are leaving behind as well as the self toward which we are going.”
The threshold moment requires an acceptance of what has been, what is, and what possibilities may come. The threshold moment, if we wish to honor each moment as life-giving and transformational, forces us to see our truth, the truth of our desires, and the truth of our circumstances.
“If you are interested in transformation, no element is more important than developing a love of truth. As we learn to accept what is real in the present moment, we are more able to accept whatever arises in us, because we know that it is not the whole of us… When we are willing to be with the whole truth—whatever it is –we have more inner resources available to deal with whatever we are facing.” –The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.
And this brings me to my 2021 word of the year: TRUTH.
Each is an expression of his hospitality. A true gentleman with a heart for one who needs compassion and comfort and the most energetic man I have ever met celebrates his 80th birthday today, December 29, 2020. Fr. Volker has touched many lives through his work as a Missionary Benedictine—as Oblate Director, Sub-Prior, and Mission Procurator—known especially for his hospitality. He is the living example of the instructions of St. Benedict, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35).”
Cleaning out some old papers, I stumbled upon a script from which I read a farewell greeting to my spiritual director and monk friend, Fr. Mauritius Wilde when he moved from Schuyler, Nebraska to Rome four years ago.
My message was one of gratitude for our shared experiences, but also sadness that we would not see each other regularly…since Rome is a bit more than a car drive away. I knew that we would continue to be in touch, and as luck would have it I was able to visit Rome one year later for the Benedictine World Congress and he has also visited Nebraska a few times to lead retreats. So, it was not a good-bye, but a see-ya-later.
As I read through what I had written four years ago, I realized this feeling of being separated, yet remaining deeply connected speaks to our current situation of pandemic. I feel this same nostalgic see-ya-later-sort-of-way as we hunker down, cancel trips, stay at home and physically distance to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. It is bittersweet—but it is what we must do. We will survive this liminal space where we are together in spirit, but not in person.
I experience this distance, and yet connectedness, with my daughter, who also moved from home—first to Washington DC four years ago (yikes, that 2016 was a doozy of a year) and then to Madison, Wisconsin. She is my child, so of course, we see each other as often as possible, but without the spontaneity of a quick lunch date or evening walk. I am grateful that we talk or text each other nearly every day and have been able to exchange visits nearly every other month.
But still, it is challenging to have your loved ones far away. As much as I love reading about the pioneer days, I was not cut out to be one. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to send your grown child off with her family in a covered wagon, perhaps never to be seen again.
For my birthday this year, I’m asking for donations to Benedictine Mission House. I’ve chosen this nonprofit because their mission means a lot to me, and I hope you’ll consider contributing as a way to celebrate with me. 100% of donations go to their missions reaching out to underprivileged in developing countries, enabling them to help themselves and thus better their life through education on all levels, healthcare, farming, and animal husbandry.
Who are the Missionary Benedictines?
The Missionary Benedictines are a worldwide congregation of 19 abbeys and priories. 1100 monks live and work in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe according to the Benedictine tradition in self-supporting monastic communities. Their work focuses on four primary areas: healthcare, education, hunger relief/environment, and evangelization.
As a teacher, education of young people is a cause close to my heart. Missionaries realized early on that education is a critical issue to help developing nations in their struggle towards independence and economic stability. The gathering place for children or adults, willing to learn the basics of the three “R’s” — reading, writing, and arithmetic by a missionary monk or sister was under a tree; later on the one classroom buildings with crude furnishings and often without doors or windows could be found on the parish property. Today, the standard of a school building is advanced compared to those of years ago. More info about education HERE.
Benedictine Oblates are ordinary people: men and women, married and single, lay and ordained; Catholic and non-Catholic Christians; retired, working in the home and the community. Members of the Oblate community at Christ the King Priory are from Schuyler, Omaha, Lincoln, Missouri, South Dakota — even as far away as New York and Louisiana. What they have in common is a deep desire to live as members of the Body of Christ in a special way — according to the principles of the Rule of Saint Benedict. The promises Oblates (and monks) is to the conversion of life, stability, and obedience. For more information, click HERE.
As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. — 1 Peter 4:10