My wife has a great aunt that was a nun of the order of the Sisters of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, MN. She passed away in 2008, may she rest in peace.
Every year her extended family gets together for a reunion. This year, they decided that they were going to go up to the Monastery to visit the sisters. I took the day off from work to see them as well.
We were warmly greeted when we arrived. There were stories shared and laughs to be had.
After a little while, we ended up going over to their museum and gift shop. We were a big group, so they split us up. I was in the group that went to the gift shop first. This, in hindsight, is probably a good thing.
For being at a Monastery, you would think that the gift shop would have more Catholic items in it. I can honestly say that it was roughly 20% Catholic and 80% odds and ends that you can get at any gift shop. It was rather disappointing. I was looking around and found a couple of heretical items.
I decided that I would come back and buy my items after the tour.
Instead of going to the museum display that commemorated their 100 years of having their chapel, we ended up going into the back room where they kept all of their old vestments and items that used to be in the chapel.
The vestments were some of the most beautiful that I had ever seen. The nuns from the late 1800s-1940s would make the vestments by hand. They would stitch some very intricate and beautiful images onto these vestments. Some of the flowers looked real. They had Angels with detailed toes and fingers. The fingers were maybe a few centimeters long. Very small and intricate.
The nuns kept referring to all these beautiful vestments as “pieces”, as if they were art.
I mentioned that we needed more vestments like this as these vestments point back to God in the love that the prior nuns had for making them. Alas, the response I received was along the lines of “oh, no, the vestments of today are far more simpler and easy.” Right, because God calls for us to take the easy and simple path that everyone takes. The Sister who was giving us the tour made a comment about how people ask where the color is in the Chapel these days (they “renovated” it in the 80s). They usually reply back with “in the people”.
Afterwards, we went to the chapel where the nuns would pray the Liturgy of the Hours. We prayed noon prayer in this simple looking auditorium that you would expect to see at a college lecture hall. I don’t recall if there was a crucifix, let alone a cross in the entire room. I counted only 3 of the nuns wearing a habit. Most of the nuns were wearing pant suits with a flowery shirt.
We had lunch. That was good. The lettuce for the salad was from their gardens. This was perhaps one of my favorite things of the entire tour.
After lunch was over, we went up to the chapel. In the 1980s, the order decided they needed to “renovate” the chapel. It used to be very Catholic.
They opened the doors to reveal a magnificently grand and bland chapel. The altar had been moved to the center. No kneelers. Just…plain. There was absolutely no indication that this was a Catholic church. It looked just like the Protestant churches.
The entire time we all were looking around in disappointment, the sisters were just smiling and explaining why they did what they did. My tongue had been getting sore from biting down on it so hard throughout the day. When Sister mentioned that they don’t kneel, but stand reverently, I lost it.
I explained how we are supposed to kneel before God who is truly present. They retorted that kneeling isn’t necessary because in the prayers it says something about “…we stand before you…”. They also used the age-old “Europe doesn’t have kneelers” argument, which is incorrect. Certainly some do, but I explained that the Vatican says that churches are supposed to. “Different books at different times say different things” one replied.
TRIGGER ALERT: HERESY: The same sister also said that the community, along with the priest, bring forth Jesus. I replied that that was absolutely incorrect because without the Priest, we do not have Jesus. Only a Catholic Priest can change bread into the Eucharist. “Well, that’s true, but…” and I honestly don’t recall the rest, I’m fairly certain my Guardian Angel protected me from having an aneurysm.
The main nun pulled me aside after things settled down, and told me to keep up the fire. I’m still not sure what she meant by that. Maybe she agrees with me but is sworn to obedience? I’m uncertain.
Regardless, they kept saying how it was too much beauty for a sacred space, its nice and clean now, but in the same breath would say “Could you imagine how beautiful it was?” I could imagine it much better had you left it alone.
Afterwards we went into the Sacristy, where they make their own bread! Its better because its unleavened (valid consecration stipulates that bread must be made of wheaten flour, mixed with pure natural water, baked in an oven or between two moulds and must not be corrupt). Sister also mentioned that it is made with love! Sarcasm Alert(Not like that hate-filled Eucharist you receive at your local parish!) I question if these nuns believe in the True Presence. If God is Love and the Eucharist is God, isn’t the Eucharist also Love?
We then went to the chapel where the tabernacle is kept (yeah, side chapel) and they have kneelers in there!
Also, they felt that the best way to keep the old communion rails was to nail them to the wall.
We then hung out in the Gathering Space for a bit. They talked about community a bit. I stopped listening. Any Catholic that goes on and on about community being that important has lost all sense of what it means to be Catholic. Community does not come first, but God does.
We went back to the museum and I looked around at what used to be a beautiful Chapel.
I found this interesting:
Many were upset at seeing this. So much beauty absolutely ransacked. This order neutered Christ and the church that their previous sisters had built out of love for God. To wreckovate a church, let alone a Catholic Church this badly, is not something of God, but of something diabolical. Sacred beauty points back to the Creator. Being physical beings, we need that physical beauty in order to help us understand God better. It isn’t a hindrance, but an enhancement. The churches before the Second Vatican Council reflected our Catholic faith. Even on movies and TV they still use traditional and beautiful churches when they want to show that they are at a Catholic church. Why? Because its part of our identity and who we are.
This picture sums up everything:
If our Sacred Places reflect who we are, what does it say when we leave a blank canvas? It demonstrates that we are not what we are. We are nothing. We are blank. This isn’t a scenario in which “you build what you want to build” or “grow into who you are to be”, but an honest to God reflection of what we are. Blank, sterile, fruitless, void of beauty. It doesn’t bring any hope. It isn’t up to the people to bring forth the color. Having a picture assists those who pray to contemplate and ask the deeper questions about who we are, who is God and why it all matters. Having a blank slate does absolutely nothing.
Look at your wall. Mine is one solid color. Maybe yours is too. How does that bring you closer to God? How are you able to contemplate the deeper questions? You can, to a point, but it is not very deep.
Meanwhile, an icon with multiple images will allow you to contemplate the beauty of our faith and bring you closer to God.
When we sterilize our churches and remove all the smells, bells, whistles, and pictures, we are making them fruitless. Sterilization brings forth no life. In fact, it ends up destroying life as it doesn’t allow any growth to occur. A sterile society can’t bring forth new members to it. Likewise, a sterile church won’t bring forth new members either.
There was also a picture on the wall that mentioned that the wreckovation was in response to the Second Vatican Council. I forgot to ask them where in the documents it is a requirement to destroy churches.
I didn’t purchase anything in the gift shop, as it goes to support these sisters. Sisters who are obedient to disobedience to God. Ironically, I saw this on Facebook an hour or two after we had left.
I found out that these sisters are actually a part of the LCWR, the same LCWR that was in support of Obamacare and has been in support of abortion, contraception and the like. Sure, there may be some sisters who are not, but you can’t support them.
Meanwhile, here are some Benedictine Sisters you can support. Believe it or not, they actually hand stitch vestments. I find it funny. The order of Benedictines who say that the vestments of today are much easier to make is dying out. Meanwhile, the order of Benedictines who are painstakingly, but lovingly making vestments by hand are thriving.
Beauty and sacredness brings forth reverence and obedience to God. Help parishes and orders that encourage these things.