Al Majkrzak’s Homily from March 11, 2018

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Today, the fourth Sunday in Lent is called Laetare Sunday or Rose Sunday in many Christian Churches that have liturgical worship. Laetare, Latin for rejoice and Rose because penitential purple vestments were exchanged for joyful rose  In short this day is in some ways a liturgical half time in Lent; it’s a day that we can remember what the fasting and prayers and almsgiving of Lent are all about; getting ready for Easter and so we rejoice.

This day, March 11 is also a perfect day for us to rejoice, because on March 11, 1953 Mother Monica Black, and Sisters Annunciata Byrne and Martha Glaser of the Sisters of St. Benedict arrived from Sioux City, Iowa where their community had been located for 56 years. They came to build a monastery and open a girl’s high school.

Much has changed in the last 65 years but there are, I believe, some constants. The changes and the constants all took place in the context of the Rule of Benedict and by the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel we heard these words of Jesus: “Indeed, God did not send the Only Begotten One into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved.”

When I read that sentence, and reflected on the word “saved” and “salvation” I remembered something that I learned long ago in a New Testament Greek class. The Greek word for salvation is ‘soteria’ {so-tay-ree-a} and it means both spiritual and physical salvation. In Greek soteria, salvation includes restoration, soundness, health and wholeness.

In the last 65 years much soteria has taken place by God’s grace, through this community and in this community which is why we rejoice today.

An early act of restoration was the Lost Lake preservation. From 1998 to 2000 the lake was dredged restoring it to its original size and depth.  The lake and resulting wetland, combined with a slow release of water, became a runoff protection for the north side of Lake Mendota and provided nesting areas for birds and other prairie life.

In reading about this project I was reminded of a passage from the Prophet Ezekiel in which the author recorded a vision given by God.  This is part of what he said:

“Then the angel brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple…….

“Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. He said to me, “On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”

Visualize water flowing from this place, this sanctuary; maybe think about it overflowing from the baptismal font, the living water of God’s Grace flowing and blessing those who are touched by it throughout the last 65 years.

The restoration and healing of the land in this place continued throughout the years, as walking trails were developed, prairie lands restored and the building that we are now in was built. A building that received an award because it was designed to use geothermal heating and cooling, solar energy generation, and reduce water usage and site runoff.

That’s part of the story but the flow of God’s grace always includes, God’s people.  The living water flowing from this place has as its source the life giving Spirit of God’s grace lived out in community by women who live their life according to the Rule of Benedict.

The changes of the last 65 years were all grounded in prayer, listening, respect for all people and obedience to the will of God as discerned by that community.

In the early 60’s the sisters began to study two documents that came out of the 2nd Vatican Council. At that time there was an Italian word used by many to describe the Council, “Aggiornamento”, which meant bringing up to date” or opening the doors of the Church to dialogue with the outside world. Sister Mary David says that “the door was open and the sisters walked through.”

One of the documents the sisters studied was named the “Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life” They studied, they prayed and they listened and in 1966 decided to close the school and open St. Benedict Center for retreats for Roman Catholic women and men. This decision was made by the members of the Benedictine Community in Madison and those sisters who stayed behind in Iowa.  It was one community even if it was separated geographically.  In talking about that one community, despite a geographical separation of 450 miles, Sr. Joanne said that every time the sisters traveled to Iowa they were bathed in the graces of those that they visited.

On September 1, 1966 St. Benedict Center opened and all were welcomed with Benedictine hospitality, being faithful to Benedict’s rule that “all guests… are to be welcomed as Christ”

The other document that the sisters studied was on Ecumenism, a movement promoting unity and greater cooperation among Christian denominations. They studied, they prayed, and they listened. Among those they listened to was the Executive Committee of the Madison Interfaith Dialogue, who had petitioned Bishop O’Connor to allow St. Benedict Center to be open to all faiths for prayer, retreats, and ecumenical studies. The bishop approved and so in 1966, St. Benedict Center opened its doors wider and began its journey to become an ecumenical and inclusive community.

As the river of God’s grace flowed throughout the years more trees with healing leaves grew on its banks,. A woman and her two daughters from India were welcomed as Christ and lived with the sisters for 5 years. The girls, now grown women, still call Sister Joanne, grandma.

Starting in 1972, the Lutheran Summer Institute for Mission, was held here. The Institute was an orientation for those called to serve with one of the Lutheran Missions throughout the world and was held here for 17 years.  When the Institute first began, the sisters worshiped and the Lutherans worshiped and they did it separately, but very soon they were praying together.

Over the years Benedictine Hospitality included sisters staying here from Korea, China, Africa, and South America and included our sisters visiting many of those places offering encouragement and support, including helping to finance the building a school in Africa.  And so the water flowing from this place reached many places of the world.

In 1996 the Rev. Lynne Smith, a Presbyterian Pastor, in Columbus Junction, Iowa saw an ad for a retreat opportunity at St. Benedict Center. As she described it, she saw the ad in three different publications, and so she came. She came, she and she came back and she came back and on June 2, 2000 Lynne became the first professed Protestant member of the Benedictine Women of Madison, making her final profession on October 9, 2004.

When I asked Sr. Lynne what was one of the important things that she has learned over the years about living in this monastic community of women, she said that it was the importance of involving people, outside of the community, in their decision making process.  She noted that the sisters alone made decisions concerning their community life together, but that when it came to decisions that involved the activities and direction of the monastery there was always an effort to invite other’s thoughts, participation, and direction, and then listening and responding in light of Benedictine values.

That was what I learned as I looked at the history of the last 65 years, particularly the movement from St. Benedict Center to Holy Wisdom Monastery. In 1990 the sisters began to seriously examine their future and in 1991 Sister Barbara Dannhausen, a Dominican met with Sisters Mary David and Joanne and agreed to lead a visioning and planning process. In 1992 the sisters met with 12 others, who had different religious backgrounds and life experiences and who came from all over the country. Together they wrestled with the basic question of what was the future,  eventually producing a list of 18 possible courses of action. The sisters in Madison took that list to their sisters in Iowa and together they paired the list down to 7 and after more study, prayer, and listening, the Benedictines, both in Madison and Sioux City Iowa chose to become an ecumenical community of vowed Benedictine women.

That choice led to more consultation, listening and response.  An ecumenical board was formed and in 2006 Srs. Mary David and Joanne, transferred their monastic profession from the Sisters of St. Benedict to the Benedictine Women of Madison joining Sr. Lynne Smith to become the first ecumenical monastic community in North America. That change was accepted by the Federation of St. Gertrude, the group of Benedictine Monasteries to which our monastery belongs. That was another first and it involved many people over many years and today the Community of the Benedictine Women of Madison is growing with the addition of Sr. Paz and Novice Denise.

I began by recalling that this day is often called Laetare Sunday or Rose Sunday. There is another name used in England and some parts of Europe – Mothering Sunday, because of  a 16th century tradition of domestic servants being given a day off to visit their mother church, that is,  the church in which they were baptized, and their mothers.

Now I bring this up because we cannot adequately celebrate the last 65 years without acknowledging and giving thanks for what has been born and nurtured and mothered in this place.

The Companions of St. Benedict; the Oblates; Sojourners; The Friends of Wisdom Prairie and of course, Sunday Assembly. All communities where all are welcome.

If you are part of one of those communities you are a part of the beloved community of Holy Wisdom Monastery and you are in the stream of God’s grace which flows from this place, for we are one in answer to the prayer of Jesus at his last supper: “May they be one.” We are female, we are male, we are rich in our diversity and we are made in the image and likeness of God.

As you leave this room today take a moment to notice that the water in the baptismal font flows and overflows. Perhaps touch the water, recalling that you are part of that flow, as you love and serve God, God’s people and all of God’s Creation.

Touch the water and recall the words of St. Paul said at every baptism.  “There is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Mother/Father of all.

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