Reflections from the Prioress on Sister Karen’s Profession

Sister Mary Forman shared this reflection at the Perpetual Monastic Profession of Sister Karen Martin on Saturday, August 15, 2020.

Readings: Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab; Psalm 45; 1 Cor 15:20-27; and Luke 1:39-56

Sister Karen (center) with her formation director Sister Mary Marge Goeckner (left) and the prioress, Sister Mary Forman (right).

Today we rejoice in one of our own taking the next step in her journey to becoming a Benedictine Sister. She is, as are we, “blessed among women” (Lk 1:42). In Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice…’Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord, would be fulfilled’” (Lk 1:45).  Today, Karen, you are witnessing to the promise of the Lord, whose Spirit’s call to you is being fulfilled.  This call you have heard in our life together: listening to the scriptures, participating in lectio divina, serving willingly by playing the organ, teaching piano lessons, and greeting our many neighbors and their cows on your daily walks, your unassuming attentiveness to whatever is asked of you and your delight in recreation in its varied forms—to name a few—all of which has brought you to this day and this moment. You, indeed, and we are blessed among women.

In our gospel canticle, “the lowliness of Mary is contrasted with the might of God, for whom nothing is impossible,…what God has done for Mary is universalized into what God does for ‘those who fear God.’” So, the very lowliness, that is, humility of our lives in community, especially when experiences have caused us to feel “lowly, sick and downtrodden,” our God is in the midst of these.  God promises to reverse the situation of the downtrodden and to set us free. Just as God has drawn you through the frustrations of your childhood and the many varied life experiences as nurse, second lieutenant in the Air Force, medical technician and organist, so now God draws you into the surprising, challenging and never dull monastic life among us. As our retreat director in the words of Henri Nouwen reminds us:

Community life is not a creation of human will but an obedient response to the reality of our being united…we are community not because we like each other or have a common task or project but because we are called together by God. God seems pleased to call together in Christian communiites people who are humanly speaking, very different, who come from different cultures, classes and countries…Each person must love the others with all their differences and work with them for community. These people would never have chosen to live with each other. Humanly speaking, it seems an impossible challenge. But it is precisely because it is impossible that they believe that God has chosen them to live in this community. So then [with the grace of God] the impossible becomes possible.

So, from now on you belong to this motley crew that only God could have brought together and you will be learning over a lifetime how to love us as we are learning to love you.

While Mary’s call in the Magnificat leads her to joyful exultation in her God, the Mary allegorized in the first reading from Revelation encounters conflict with “a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns” (Rev 12:3), “a very ancient symbol of chaos.” So, too, in our lives together there will be occasions of chaos, the intrusion of situations where we can practice healing hospitality toward one another amid misunderstandings, grateful simplicity as we downsize in order to move out of and back into the Annex, and creative peacemaking as we experience the ups and downs of adjustments, letting go and the daily irritations of living together. 

We can face the chaos together because of our promise of stability, that is, being rooted in God’s never-changing love, who holds us all together; the promise of conversatio, the call to always be changed by living monastic life fully in all its joys and challenges; and the promise of obedience, the lifelong listening to the God of our lives, heard in scriptures, lectio, the Divine Office, the Rule of Benedict, the prioress and our Sisters, the events of human history and the call of the church. We are able to live these promises because our God is ever-faithful and seeks us first, and calls us to seek the Divine always and in every circumstance. Each of us has been called into the school of the Lord’s service, to become humble servants of one another in the daily acts of love, forgiveness and care we manifest to God, to each other and to the many guests and visitors we encounter.

So, Karen, daughter of God, “see and turn your ear…[you] are borne in with gladness and joy” according to our responsorial psalm (Ps 45:11,16) to enter the life of God’s house in this monastery unto death. As you stated in your closing reflection on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception,  in 2015, “Now, I am convinced of the existence of Mary.  I honor her and she is my mother.  She intercedes for me and points me to Jesus.” May she continue to guide you into the blessedness of one, who knows herself loved completely and unconditionally by God.