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Christmas letter 2020

Advent, Christmas a time of new beginning, this year more than ever!

A year has passed, and Advent and Christmas a year ago were still a time with no worries, a time of old normality, a time like all the other years.

This year is different. Feelings, activities, even work are filled with insecurities, and many uncertainties are mixed in together with a little bit of adventure. Wearing a mask, yes or no, washing your hands and disinfecting as often and as thoroughly as possible and keeping your distance are part of the new reality. No big events are on the agenda. Christmas markets, and aimless shopping are out of our daily routine. This time of Covid-19 calls us to be recollected, to reflect a little, to think about whether I need all this or is it possible to exist with a little less?

Questions are increasing like: why am I alive, what is my task in this often big and often diminishing world; and also the question: what does it look like inside my four walls, inside our four walls? Can we still remain together, do we notice that my I must become a WE, for the earth will only carry and bear us together.

The readings before Advent are often from John‘s Book of Revelation and from the Book of Daniel, where a world is shown us in which the old order collapses and something new comes about. Many of us read these books as stories about past times or as something that will happen in the future. But is this correct? Aren‘t John‘s revelations rather the concrete story of the first Christians’ life in the Roman Empire? Aren‘t they the questions asked by Christians about how things will continue? What will the new every-day life look like, even if now there is the threat of being torn apart by chaos, hatred and oppression, pain and suffering? Doesn‘t this way of seeing things hold the great hope that there will be a future, that there will be a new beginning, that the old will pass away? And what this future will look like becomes our task! There is no expectation of salvation in which we do nothing but watch! In God‘s plan for creation, we are asked to take part in constructing it, to take part in shaping it. Our God is a God of creation who has created life and who gives life at every moment of our being!

Crib in the Novitiate in Ein Karem

What is our daily life today, how would we describe it, what do we learn from it? This life, this human life is limited, but spiritual life is eternal. The human person was formed from the earth, but this person became alive only after God‘s Spirit was breathed into him and her. We are constantly concerned that our looks, our thoughts be modern, that our I and our life should function in accord with the general rules of the mass. We find orientation in the conventions of society, and corresponding with the trends of our time is to be “in”, We dress according to what the fashion shows us, and this as cheaply and extensively as possible, even if people in other countries are exploited for this; and we think that derogatory comments about our neighbors and strangers living with us are maybe even cool. 

What is cool is that in Advent, on Christmas, God became a human person, that the timeless, eternal One accepts limitation by becoming a human being.

To all of you a blessed time of Advent and a Christmas of becoming human, for being human means living with limitation.

Sr. Juliana, nds

Letter from St. John in Montana, 08/2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Since the middle of March we, in the novitiate community, are mostly totally confined to the convent and only the necessary errands are made. Doctor’s visits, shopping of groceries or the pharmacy, and after the lockdown also the hairdresser. The rest of the time we occupied ourselves within the convent walls. At the beginning we thought we had lots of time available but that was not the reality. For me my computer has been organised, and cleaned from all the unnecessary objects and papers. Movies were watched and there I found the Episode “The Chosen”. There has been more time for prayer and reflection. Reading a novel or spiritual book became a daily routine.

Others in the community became engaged in preparing zoom community prayer to enable others to participate, Jerusalem community members and the sisters who live alone, like in Krakow or Ireland. The house is receiving a good clean and all the unnecessary things are distributed and given away. The Garden is full of a plentitude of fruits which God seems to have given us during this Pandemic. There where plums, peaches, strawberries, pears, apples and now grapes. Compote has been made, as well as jams for the different Sion communities in Jerusalem.

In the vegetable garden tomatos and cucumbers, pees and kohlrabi keeps our meal table fresh and healthy. Now during this second wave of Pandemic in Israel the workers benefit from all this as well.

The Kehila day-care centre and the Orphanage enjoy the weekly box of grapes which Father Roman brings them after our weekly Eucharistic Celebration with him.

Life has become busy again in spite of the Corona virus outside the convent wall, and sometimes I wonder how did we fit in all our activities like volunteer work and wandering around in Jerusalem etc before the Corona Virus. Zoom encounters, skype meetings and sharing with friends and family via fairmeeting.net (which is an opensource and Europe based alternative to zoom without time limits) has become the new social encounters – a way of asking how everyone is. Technology has become a way of relating and encountering others.

Retreats are offered via zoom as swell as courses in continued formation. Sion centres also make sure that Knowledge is updated and learning is happening. To some extent I, Juliana enjoy this new way of learning as well as being able to participate in a course on Spiritual direction, and deepening biblical knowledge. We all become little experts using our iPads and Computers in our Community prayer time and sharing’s.

Learning via internet has been a big surprise for me in this time of the Corona virus Pandemic and a way to be even more conscious about the environment. The fact of not needing to fly anywhere in order to meet and participate in a continued Formation course or meeting is a blessing! Not to forget all our Birthday Celebrations happened during the summer months and lockdowns and we were able to enjoy and laugh with one another.

“In Sion Firmata Sum”

News and greetings, June 23rd, 2019 was the day we sent out the letter of an initiative presented by the Congregational Novitiate Formation Team. and 23 sisters and friends of Sion joined the initiative to make a difference in our daily living.

The “pact” we invited to, called us at this point to commit ourselves to live deeply one day a week as a day of “praise and thanksgiving”. This could mean to turn off our gadgets, slow down, notice, listen to the word, enjoy one another, do something creative…

Some month’s later the world experienced a lock down in many countries because of the corona virus which interrupted all work, social and interactive daily life. We were forced, to keep physical distance and wear face masks and gloves to protect oneself and others. The Pandemic took hold of our life’s.

In looking back over the time I was keeping the pact of “Praise and Thanksgiving“ during this year, which interrupted my lifestyle to some degree, I would like to share what I learned.

I learned that routine can be very life-giving, routine can be something one can look forward too, as by Friday I long for my day of praise and thanksgiving. I learned to let go off the activity one day a week by giving myself time to sit with my God more consciously over a length of time. I could read a book or just waist time by enjoying nature and by seemingly doing nothing important but just being.

I learned that God’s commandment “to keep the day of rest” once a week has not as it´s goal, to restrict my freedom but calls me to engage me even more and to get to know and learn who God is. Resting with the one who created me to be helps to become more the human being which is in need to look back, to reflect on my actions, my doings and connect and keep in contact united with my creator for the week to come.

(Genesis 2:1 “Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God had completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he rested after all his work of creating.)

The Word of Jesus “remain in me” tells me to stay connected, to be in communication and so I wish us all a happy first anniversary of the day of “Praise and Thanksgiving”.

John 15:1-11 (Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch… If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.

Juliana

Lockdown and Easter 2020

In this time of lockdown, the Coronavirus has forced the cancellation of events and this situation calls us to change our life to a greater understanding of life’s reality, maybe to the understanding that we are not made of permanency.

And so how do we live this time of uncertainty, of interacting with restrictions? Inside our Convent in Ein Karem we are interacting very little, remembering to keep the two meters distance between us, which is not always easy to remember. Our daily routine of prayer, mass via media streaming, daily duties of cooking, we do little shopping, but when necessary we go for milk, fruit and vegetables. I am the lucky one because my Hebrew lessons continue via Zoom with lots of homework to do. Our daily prayer becomes a zoom opportunity as Ania in Poland and Therese in Ireland, also Rose Theresa and Maureena participate with us in this media way of connecting and praying together.

One Friday we celebrated the beginning of Shabbat together with Maureena who came to join us. The quietness and the beauty of the place with its spring flowers blossoming and the smells of the first blooming of the orange and lemon trees made the place a heaven for itself, if there wouldn’t be knowledge that we are living a moment of crisis, of uncertainty for so many of us inside the convent walls and outside.

Colette is staying in contact with all the workers and all of us with our families and friends via internet, telephone or using What’sApp.

Erika is bringing life to the Ecce Homo community with her creativity and beauty she creates around her.

Some of us are more fearful then others and some are more frustrated then others.

The question to be on service and at the same time to be cautious of the other’s fear and health continues to be a daily question?

I am more connected via What’s App with my family these days.

The Passion reading of Palm Sunday Mat: 26:28 gives account of the word “But Jesus was silent” “ or he did not answer anymore, one word”. When it comes to proclaim Truth Jesus speaks and is judged, or just answers, “you say so”. So I wish us all the Easter celebration were the proclamation of truth fills our life and gives us the courage to proclaim.

Sr. Juliana NDS

Lockdown

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.

But,

They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality

To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.

So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.

Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,

Sing.

Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM

March 13th 2020

Hanukkah and Christmas

This reflection can invite us to listen to how these two feasts echo one another.

Light… for Hanukkah is celebrated with lights, eight small flames that are lit on each of the feast’s eight days.
Already Flavius Josephus called Hanukkah “the lights”, because the victory of the Maccabeans manifested the victory of light over darkness; and St. Jerome takes up this interpretation for his own purposes in his commentary on Jn 10:22, when he says: “the light of freedom”.

In rabbinic tradition, it is the victory of the Torah (“a lamp for my steps, a light on my path”) over the darkness of the Greek empire’s paganism, which forbade the Torah.

The Temple… for Hanukkah remembers the “dedication” (which is what the word “Hanukkah” means) of the Temple after its desecration by the Greek empire (cf. 1 Macc 4:36-61 and 2 Macc 10:1-6).

The Jewish commentaries on this feast strongly emphasize the significance of the Temple as God’s dwelling place in the midst of God’s people, whence the great importance that was given to its purification and renewed dedication.
Here an extract from a midrash on Num 7:12 (chapter 7 in the Book of Numbers is the main reading for Hanukkah): “So long as the Lord was alone in his world, he longed to live with his creatures here below. He only did so when the dwelling place was established. Then the Holy One, Blessed be He, brought his presence to rest.”

We can hear Jn 1 as an echo to this: “The Word was light… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The Messiah… for Hanukkah is a messianic feast.
The Emmaus story in Luke 24 confirms this by having Jesus join the two disciples who are on their way to a very precise place: Emmaus. They are going to a place of remembrance, namely that of the victory of Judas Maccabeus (cf. 1 Macc 4). That Judas did deserve to be a true messiah. But this Jesus was not capable of delivering them from the Romans. They are disappointed and very sad. And Jesus causes them to turn around both physically and spiritually: they too pass from darkness to light.

Moreover, let us note that Jesus is asked the messianic question (cf. Jn 10:22-23) in the context of the feast of Hanukkah.

The prophetic reading for the feast (Zech 2:14-4:7) also underlines this messianic aspect by introducing the “two anointed” (4:11-14): the one represents religious power (Joshua, cf. 3:1-8), and the other political power (Zorobabel, cf. 4:6-10) – two powers that should never be confused – and “my servant sprouts” (cf. 3:9).

The dates of Hanukkah and Christmas… for their relationship is not obvious.
The origin of the date for the feast of Hanukkah is controversial: was it linked to the winter solstice, the time of year when the days begin once again to get longer, whence the importance given to light?

The origin of the feast of Christmas is also complex: is there a connection to the “Mithra” cult, Mithra being a kind of mediator between heaven and earth, whose cult included invocations to the sun…? There was a need to find a date for the birth of Jesus, nine months after his conception on March 25… In any case, the first feast celebrating the manifestation of God become man was Epiphany and not Christmas. The emphasis was not placed on a date of birth but on the fact of the incarnation.

How can we be associated with the Jewish people during this week of Hanukkah and Christmas?
Let us remember that Christmas does not claim to be a historical feast; we are not celebrating “the anniversary of Jesus”.
Even if its date wasn’t chosen because of a connection with the feast of Hanukkah (this connection could have been the theme of light together with the winter solstice), the two feasts do shed light on one another and give us messages that are not contradictory.

Is not Jesus God’s dwelling place in this world, the divine light that drives out our darkness, the Messiah who makes no political claim, the Savior of the world?!

When we celebrate Christmas, why don’t we remember these two feasts and welcome Jesus, the Messiah, who did not come to abolish the Torah and the Prophets or the Jewish feasts and their traditions. He came to fulfill the history of salvation while leaving for us as humanity the space of what is not fulfilled, that of “marana tha”, which we can say with the Jewish people with a hope that is all the greater because we know Him who has already come and whose coming in glory we await.

The words of Edmond Fleg can be our prayer:

And now both of you are waiting,
You that he come, and you that he come again;
But you are asking for the same peace,
And you are stretching out your two hands
With the same love, that he come or come again!
So what does it matter? From the one or the other shore
Make him come,
Make him come!

Sr. Anne-Cathrine Avril NDS