It seems like a riddle: What has a single cornerstone, and many cornerstones? Yet it’s no riddle, it’s simply the mystery of monastic community.
Over the past few days as I’ve looked over at Sister Florence’s former choir stall, her absence in choir is palpable. Downstairs, I no longer see her cleaning the serving area after dinner. During Mass, I no longer see her approaching the altar as Eucharistic Minister for the sick. When rounding the far corner of the monastery after a trip to town, I don’t see her out walking. Sister Florence was a mainstay of the community, and we are adjusting to life without one of our cornerstones even as she remains very present in our hearts.
While we have only one Cornerstone – Christ, the source and foundation of all that we are and do – within monastic community there is also a way in which we serve as cornerstones for one another, supporting, uplifting, and stabilizing in various ways at various times.
The photo above is a good image for this – all shapes, sizes, and angles of stones, joined together with a seamless bond and supported by a sure foundation. Imagine them as living stones that move and breathe, sometime supporting and sometimes needing support, sometimes leaning, sometimes being leaned upon, yet eternally bound together in the bond of Christ.
In the past week, those on Sister Florence’s row in choir have shifted down a place. Her prayer books have joined those available for guests. Someone else cleans the serving area each evening. We are moving and shifting, living stones, adjusting to life without her, yet remaining bound within the seamless bond of Christ.
The stone wall depicted above is from Mary Hall, which was built in the late 1940’s as a dormitory for Sacred Heart College. It now serves as lodging for the Retreat Center. The stones of Mary Hall are not only a good visual image, the building itself is a good descriptive image of the many ways in which monastics support one another over the long haul of years and generations. Mary Hall was designed by Sister Imelda, who also supervised its construction. Sister Therese now supervises it’s maintenance. Over the decades, many of our Sisters have lodged in Mary Hall as students, dorm prefects, retreatants, and retreat leaders. Sisters have both taught and taken classes on its lower floor. Sister Kathleen tends the flowers, which the rest of us pause to enjoy. In my Retreat Center ministry I have done my share of cleaning in Mary Hall, and on Sunday evenings, after weekend retreatants have departed, I’m often making a run up and down its three floors, ensuring that doors are locked and lights are off. Yet I’ve also been cozy and comfortable as a Mary Hall guest.
It’s not about buildings, of course. It’s about the mystery of life in monastic community. It’s about sometimes teaching and sometimes being taught. Sometimes cleaning and sometimes being cleaned for. Sometimes supporting and sometimes being supported. It’s about shifting and adjusting and moving as living cornerstones for one another, generation after generation, while always and evermore resting upon the One Cornerstone, Christ our sure foundation.