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Ash Wednesday Reflection from the Prioress
Ash Wednesday Reflection
March 1, 2017
Sister Nicole Kunze, Prioress
I’d like to start with a story from Father Richard Rohr. “Over 20 years ago, I was giving several retreats in India. While there, I became very sick from some food I had eaten. A young Hindu boy was put in charge of me, caring for me until I was nursed back to health. He waited on me day and night, making sure that my every need was met. As I lay in bed I wondered how a young man could come to such love, deeply caring for someone that he never knew. So one morning I asked him, “Who is God for you?” “Sir, I believe that whenever one person shows respect for another person, there is God.” Fr. Rohr ends the story: “It was clear to me…that in his respect for me, and I hope mine in him, that we both met God.”
Respect for persons is a Benedictine value that is critical to life in a monastic community. Our monastic community’s ongoing formation study this semester is helping us enhance the quality of our community life by reflecting on Benedict’s vision of respect and hospitality. We have read and discussed Esther deWaal’s article, “Woven Together in Love”. Near the beginning of the article, de Waal states, “The challenge posed by community life is this: How can I learn to love all these people in the way that they really need to be loved? How can I relate to them in a way that allows me to be fully myself, and also allows them to be themselves?”
As prioress, I have the privilege of visiting with each of our sisters. I am touched, and honored by the stories they share with me. I know for certain that each them has a love for our monastic community, our sisters, and our way of life. I don’t doubt that at all. That doesn’t mean there aren’t tough times, times when community life isn’t perfect. As much as each one of us loves community, there are times when living in community can be challenging. I think Benedict knew that our relationships in community are a blessing and a challenge. He knew human frailty and limitations yet believed in our potential. Benedict says we should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior.
Lent is a good time to do this type of work. In the reading from the Book of Joel at today’s liturgy we heard, “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” Lent starts with the heart. A verse in today’s responsorial psalm – “A clean heart create for me, O God.” Sister Genevieve Glen states that Lent is heart work and that we are called to make heart changes, changes that matter, during this season.
I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for Chapter 72 of the Rule of Benedict in the past year. We are to pursue and foster good zeal, that zeal which leads to God and everlasting life, first described using a verse from the letter to the Romans: “They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other.” We do love and care for each other. But sometimes this is difficult as we live day by day together. There will be conflict and disagreements among us. I don’t wish us to be of like mind or opinion. In our differences we can and must respect each other. That is something we can model for our society at this time.
In his Lenten reflection, Pope Francis uses the story of Lazarus and the rich man to show us what we need to do in order to attain true happiness and eternal life. His first point is that Lazarus teaches us that the other person is a gift. “A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect, and love.” I believe we should strive to see the gift in others, to see God in others. Reflect upon how you show respect to others and where you could improve.
By continuing this journey of faith together during this season of Lent and beyond, I believe we will see God in the other and we will fulfill the words of Saint Benedict, “Let us prefer nothing whatever to Christ and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”