Monday, February 11, 2013

Holy Hospitality {Passionist Monastery}

Sister Cecilia Maria and me on the day of her first vows as a Passionist Nun
Following the Mass of Religious Profession of Sister Cecilia Maria, the guests of the monastery were treated to a reception and cloister parlor receiving line. The holy, habited Passionist Nuns stood on one side of a simple wooden half-wall and we, their guests, passed through the parlor in a receiving line fashion, stopping to meet and visit with them before they returned to their cloister.

My turn to greet Sister Cecilia finally arrived, after perhaps an hour, and she gave me a hug and thanked me for attending her profession of vows.  After a short visit, I moved along the half-wall and met the other sisters, each reflecting the love of Christ like beacons.  Many knew (of) me, due to my frequent e-prayer requests, and inquired about my family. I felt deeply welcomed and wholly loved by each and every sister.

A beautiful buffet waited in the gathering space of the guest house, graciously hosted by the Passionist Oblates (lay Passionists), each wearing the Passionist insignia on a chain.  At the buffet, I made the acquaintance of Sister Cecilia Maria's college roommate, Noreen and her husband, Joel, both attorneys.  We were joined by the homilist, Father Rodger Hunter Hall, and Sister's sister, Whitney, and a lively discussion about Settlers of Catan ensued.  

Having received advanced permission from Mother Superior to ‘hop the fence’ (exit the enclosure) following the formal receiving line, Sister joined her family and a few remaining friends in the parlor’s sitting area where we visited for about an hour until the bell rang for evening prayer at 6PM.
Sister Cecilia describes the fitting of her Passionist ring, a visible sign of her marriage to Christ as Dr. May looks on.

Praying the Liturgy of the Hours in the chapel with the sisters was sublime.  Her family and friends joined as we prayed the psalms and sang the hymns, being assisted by Father Hunter Hall who helped them find the right pages in the chapel breviaries.

After evening prayers, extra chairs were moved into the small dining area in the guest house, and so the four friends without lodging at the monastery were invited to stay for dinner.  At one dinner table with Sister's grandma sat Noreen, Joel, and Sister’s professor, Dr. Jim May, the former dean of her Alma mater, St. Olaf Lutheran College.  At the other table, I joined Father Hunter Hall and Sister Cecilia's parents and sister.

A pair of joyful Passionist Nuns delivered our evening meal, served buffet style.  Entering and exiting through the Dutch doors marking the cloister, the sisters left us to our noisy fellowship and joined their sisters for a meal taken in silence.

Father Hunter Hall, a Passionist Oblate himself, offered exceptional hospitality and took special care to see that we had table settings and felt welcome as last minute additions to the guest list for dinner.

Over dinner, Father Hunter Hall, an employee of the US Government, shared a bit about his work as the intake expert for Catholic documents at the US Library of Congress in Washington DC.  A convert to the Catholic faith, and a descendent of Scottish nobility, he was raised in Texas, entered seminary and was ordained in an Italian diocese, and wrote his dissertation on Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.   

Very recently I had been reminded of an ominous prophecy given to St. Seton, and here I found myself at dinner with a St. Seton expert!  I inquired about the 'black box' prophecy, and Father related the prophetic vision of Saint Seton:

the devil would enter American homes and families through a black box

This vision, a private revelation which we are free to believe or to doubt, baffled her contemporaries in the early 1800’s.  Imagine the sounds of it at that time, how absurd it would seem.  The implications are fairly clear today, in our modern age when various types of black boxes fill our homes, hands, pockets, and vehicles, clamoring for our constant attention and offering morally poisonous content in ever greater volume.  

Although we could have lingered much longer at table, special permission had been granted for Sister Cecilia to re-join us for another parlor visit after dinner, so we wrapped up our conversations, relocated to the parlor, and rang the bell to indicate our readiness.

Sister’s undergraduate professor, Dr. May, a well-traveled and highly educated man, happened to also be a great story teller.  He related experiences from his monastery stays in Greece and in so doing, sparked a lively conversation with Sister’s mother, Jane, about the fantastic beans offered there, which one loved and the other despised. Joel
asked Sister several insightful questions about the Mass and her daily routine as a nun which she answered like an expert apologist with the tenderness of a mother and the humility of a child.  

An admirable hand crafted wooden display case, built by Sister’s father, Tim, was passed around the room.  A crucifix adorned with the objects of Christ’s Passion (which someone had gifted to the sisters) had been beautifully mounted, housed in a glass-front case branded by a small custom-made stamp bearing the Passionist badge. 

A bell summoned us to return once again to the chapel for night prayer.  After prayers, at the final blessing, Father Hunter Hall crossed into the enclosure at Mother Superior’s unspoken gesture of invitation, and sprinkled each nun with holy water as they approached and bowed for the blessing.  I am guessing that on ordinary nights, this blessing would be bestowed upon the sisters by Mother herself.   

Following the holy water blessing, I overheard someone in the pews quietly remark, “I have no idea what just happened!”  How this memorable day of first vows ~following Sister's conversion into the Catholic Church and discerning a call to the cloistered life of a Passionist Nun~ would be viewed by someone outside the Catholic faith is a mystery to me.  But the fact that Sister's family and friends entered wholeheartedly into the monastic experience despite their different beliefs shows both the depths of their love for her and a great willingness to set aside any prejudices for the sake of supporting her vocation.

Two by two, the nuns processed by candlelight toward their cells in silence, my final glimpse of the holy, cloistered, consecrated women.  As I drove away from the monastery heading back to my hotel, I stopped to photograph the chapel, lit and reflecting upon the pond under the starry sky.  

Bright lights in the darkness...

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