In July of 1957, I answered God’s call to Monastic Life. On August 16, 2009 I celebrated my Golden Jubilee of 50 years as a member of the Order of St. Benedict. Along with sixteen other sisters, I professed my vows at Mount Saint Scholastica Convent in Atchison, Kansas on January 26, 1959. A native of Aguilar, Colorado, I returned to Colorado as a founding member of Benet Hill Monastery in 1965. I received a BA in History from Regis University and a diploma in Pastoral Liturgy from St. Joseph’s in Rensselaer, Indiana. I also have completed many courses and workshops in the areas of Education, Spirituality, Liturgy, and Religious Education.
I was a primary teacher for 28 years in schools in Iowa, Missouri, and Colorado. During that time I enjoyed working with young children especially in the area of Sacramental preparation for First Reconciliation and First Communion. I loved the creativity of celebrating Liturgy with children especially after the Second Vatican Council when children were allowed to participate in the various ministries at Mass. Finding the unique talents of each child in the areas of music, proclamation, and various forms of prayer has been most rewarding as I watch them grow in their relationship with Jesus and carry it on into adulthood as active members of their parishes. Teaching young children kept me energized and always looking for new and innovative instructional approaches in order to meet the diverse needs of my students. I am always amazed at their thirst for knowledge, their eagerness to try many new things, and the never ending creativity of each child. While engaged in the teaching arena I always strove for collaboration in building a faith community among the students, faculty, and staff members. I was a consultant to faculty members in matters of Liturgy, church updates, and in finding ways of raising awareness of the poor and marginalized.
In 1987 I was called to serve as coordinator of Liturgy for the Community at Benet Hill Monastery. During this time I discovered a new love for the Liturgy, especially the Liturgy of the Hours. I enjoyed creating the environment for various liturgical events and the many forms of prayer and hospitality that flow from it. I worked in this capacity from 1987 until 2000, during which time I served on the Colorado Springs Diocesan Liturgical Commission and committees to plan the Diocesan celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I also served as Minister of Vocations for twelve years and was part of the vocation team in the Diocese. I reentered the teaching field in August of 2001 as the second grade teacher at Pauline Memorial Catholic School where I served for nine years. Today, I am the Director of Liturgy for Benet Hill Monastery.
Sister Mary Jane’s Lenten Reflections
There is only one Feast in the Rule of St. Benedict –Holy Easter and the 40 days of Lent leading up to the 50 days of Easter—the Holy Pasch. Benedict says almost nothing about how to celebrate the season (liturgically) but he has everything to say about how to live the season. Chapter 49 he talks about fasting, weeping, praying, keeping silence, sleeping less etc. According to St. Benedict,” the life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent” For a monastic, Lent is the process of emptying ourselves. If we are always filled, satisfied, always have the best, constantly feasting, totally satisfied – there is no room for the Spirit to fill us with new life. Our job during Lent is to try to hollow out a place for God’s Spirit. Benedict says this should be our daily goal. A paraphrase of the rule should be: every day and season of Monastic life should resemble the 40 days of Lent. During this time, each of us in the joy of the Holy Spirit looks forward to Holy Easter with “intense spiritual desire.” The pattern for this is found in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians when he says, “Your attitude must be that of Christ: “though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and because of this, God highly exalted him…” The paradox here is – as Jesus emptied himself, he was exalted. This is one of the many paradoxes we find in the gospels. The one who clings to life loses it. The one who loses life for Jesus’ sake finds it. If we empty ourselves, we will be filled, etc. The Gospels also tell us that when we empty ourselves of hatred, vengeance, condemnation, etc. we will be filled. “Give and it shall be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over…”
I remember a very important part of Lent when I was growing up was to give up something during Lent. I think this was an attempt at helping us become aware of our need, and thus begin the hollowing out process. But either it wasn’t explained well or I just didn’t get it. The church has always emphasized the penitential aspect of Lent through the scriptures constantly reminding us about our attitude toward material possessions.
The Gospels say more about our attitude toward material possessions than any other topic. Advertising has conditioned us to see acquisition of possessions as natural as breathing air. If you want it, by all means get it. That message is played out a thousand ways each day. God created the material world good and loved it so much that God sent Jesus so that we would have life. But the desire to acquire, to have, to possess, can take hold of us. How to keep a balance about material things is a daily struggle.
During Lent, what practices or persons can help me keep this balance?
We constantly use phrases like “I’m starving”, or “I could eat a horse” but when we really examine our state of life we are surrounded by food. There is a disadvantage to never really being hungry. It can make us immune and insensitive. It makes us satisfied and contented. Knowing the empty feeling of hunger is rare in our everyday existence. When there is no food and no way to get it, then we can feel our dependency on God and others. Life kicks into a different gear for those who are hungry, those who live on the hard edge of survival. The traditional Lenten observance of fasting or abstaining from particular food or drink is a ritualized way of displacing our self-satisfaction, and reveals our poverty and dependence on God and others. It puts us in solidarity with others who find themselves in a similar situation, though not by choice. Historically people’s lives were dictated by the climate and the end of winter meant a scarcity of provisions. Preserved food stores got depleted. Meat that was frozen or salted, was in danger of spoiling when the occasional warm days came, so rather than eating periodically people had one big festival and ate all the rest of the meat. That’s where the word “carnival” comes from. Originally applied to the end of the winter holiday, it literally means “goodbye to the meat.” Thus the practice of abstaining from meat during Lent.
Have you ever been truly hungry and had to depend on God and others?
Lenten Reflections: Week Three
Fasting speaks to other than just food or being materially poor. Those who are truly poor are pushed and yanked around, do not know what forces are doing the pushing, and have no clue about how to break out of their cycle of poverty. We who are educated may be materially poor at times, but is unlikely that we can be yanked around by unknowns as the poor and uneducated are. Still, no matter the level of education and sophistication, when we are faced with the mysteries of life, of suffering, of our destiny, of the earth’s fate, of each other’s love or lack thereof we are often unable to solve the riddles or arrive at quick incisive answers that can open us to true wisdom, the larger sense of life in the mystery of God, which is a gift of God’s Spirit.
St. Benedict knew this when he admonishes us to spend extra time reading Scripture or spiritual books. He knew it keeps us in touch both with our poverty of knowledge and the richness of wisdom offered to us. We are social creatures and often are not comfortable with solitude. We fill spaces with with music, with television, noise, texting, with someone or something. All are good things, however when we are driven to avoid true intimacy, a deep and risky communion with our God and with one another then we must beware. Filled space means no time to attend to the other and no need to do so. There is a frightening emptiness about us that we would rather not face most of the time, not because we are bad but because we are frightened. We are afraid of the risky intimacy that God or other people invite us to. Benedict’s talk about needless talk and idle jesting may just be his way of saying we need to attend to real relationships and not stay on the surface. Often our chatter and unquiet minds create a kind of sound insulation around ourselves. We block out the other words, we block out the Word. Benedict tells us to empty ourselves of words internal and external in order to become the silent poor.
Can I refrain from idle chatter or choose solitude over noise at least one day this week?
Lenten Reflections: Week Four
A very ancient practice during Lent and one Benedict emphasizes is additional time and effort given over to prayer, especially quiet prayer of the heart. A silent heart open to the Spirit renders us particularly ready to receive what God has to offer, to accept what is given to us in God’s word. We must become poor and silent waiting for the word because the Word is waiting for us.
Traditional Lenten practice is to cut out some common entertainments- TV, movies or whatever.
They are fillers, and in that empty space, we give the Spirit a chance to bond us with our God. In addition to gathering four times a day for prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours and Mass, we have shared Lectio on the Gospel for each Sunday in our small living groups and occasionally share with the entire group.
Can I cultivate moments of silence this week, so that I might open myself to God’s spirit?
Lenten Reflections: Week Five
Chapter 49 of the Holy Rule begins with the singular. We are told that each person is to offer something extra to God beyond what is imposed and each one is to deny herself something and reveal what is to be done to the Abbot and in our case the Prioress. At Sunday evening Vespers of the first week of Lent each sister turns in a written resolution to the Prioress. Those resolutions are then used to create the Easter fire at the Vigil service. Every year before Lent we gather as a campus community and discuss what we can do as a total group in the way of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. On reflecting on the traditional Lenten practices I have become mindful of the wisdom of the church’s emphasis on these practices. There is a line in the introduction to the small booklet Daily Reflections for Lent that says, “by paring back, space is created for the invasion of grace. Wherever God finds emptiness and hospitality divine grace will flood our souls. Asceticism’s main goal is not self-denial but opening our self to God’s will. Thus ‘less rather than more’ has Asceticism’s spiritual significance.” Benedict tells us that these are ways in which we can “Look forward to Holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.” Since Vatican II the church tells us that these practices are a way of leading us to know our need to be filled with God’s Spirit.
If I were to offer a resolution to God, beyond what is expected, during these final days of Lent, what would it be?