Over these past months, Ottilia Hall has been gradually transformed from a building filled with Sisters, guests, furniture, books, and vitality to a building filled mostly with memories and possibility. The last offices moved last week, and only a few stray items and the switchboard remain. Until renovation begins in the spring, we are using the halls mainly as routes to somewhere else.
Now that the first floor – the only floor open to the public – has been cleared, guests are beginning to see the emptiness that we have been experiencing upstairs for a while now. Many have walked slowly through the vacated 1st floor rooms, empty for the first time since 1903.
I have accompanied a few of these guests through parts of Ottilia. Some had tears in their eyes. Like the Sisters, they express joy and anticipation over the much-needed renovations that will enable continued life in Ottilia. But seeing empty rooms has been hard for many.
As I’ve accompanied visitors, their reactions have reminded me just how much our work and ministries mean to our guests, be they family, friends, oblates, retreatants, or neighbors. Their comments have not been about architectural features or structural elements. Rather their speech has been peppered with remembrances of particular conversations, or times of prayer, or classes they took with a Sister. The comments have seemed like far more than a simple walk down memory lane. The specific events and people seem, instead, to be a prism through which shines the real memory – the remembrance of God.
Our monastery is a place where people come to seek God, and it is a place where God is found. It is a community of hospitality where people receive a welcome in the name of Christ. It is a spiritual harbor where people have been challenged and have grown; have been taught, and have learned. In so many ways and over so many years, countless individuals have encountered God here. I think this is reflected in the depth of the reactions to empty rooms that that remain filled with memories of spiritual significance.
Times, places, and people that carry particular spiritual weight serve as touchstones. We tend to remember well the ‘who, what, when and where’ of our spiritual growth and deepening faith. It is humbling and heartening to realize the extent to which this community and this monastery we call home has served as a touchstone of faith for so many.
Like all forms of religious life, the monastic charism is in service to the People of God. Yes, the monos of monastic means ‘alone,’ or ‘single-hearted,’ and monastic observance requires a certain measure of ‘apartness’ such as our cloistered areas provide us. Yet we are not separate. We are deeply embedded in the heart of the Church. Our liturgical prayer is with and for the Church. Our varied ministries are with and for the People of God. Our internal life of monastic community serves as witness to the Gospel and beacon of the peace of Christ.
These recent conversations while strolling the halls with friends and neighbors have reminded me of what renovating our buildings is all about. It’s about continuing our sacred tradition of prayer, hospitality, ministry…of being a touchstone of faith, a beacon of peace, and a prism through which Christ can shine – to friend, neighbor, and stranger alike.