Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Come Back to Me with All Your Heart

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Come Back to Me with All Your Heart

Article excerpt

A year ago last February I arose at the unlikely hour of 3:30 a.m. to join Trappistine nuns for Vigils, their first common prayer of the day. Before entering the dimly lit chapel, I stood on a windy bluff, high above the Mississippi in the sharp cold, amazed at the array of stars sparkling overhead. A city dweller, I rarely see such a spectacular show. Chicago's glare obscures all but the brightest stars and planets. And unless you work the night shift as cab driver, waitress, factory worker, cop, or office cleaner, odds are you're still snug in your bed when the nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa begin their day by praying for you.

That's what they do: they pray. They pray for you, for the church, for the world, for those in need, for each other, and for themselves. They spend their days practicing mindfulness of God's presence. And whether it's through their work--making their heavenly creamy caramels--or their common prayer or the silent emptiness of meditation, they see their lives as an offering for the benefit of the world.

When I joined in the chanting of the psalms that morning, I was aware of a certain poignancy in the air. Ever since my arrival the day before, I could sense the excitement that new adventure brings. But there was also an awareness of pending loss. As we prayed in the simple and appealing chapel, seven of their company were down the hall in a small meeting room conducting their own morning prayers--in Norwegian. This smaller group was preparing for the day--within the month-that they would leave the confines of these monastery walls and venture to the abbey of Tautra Mariakloster on the island of Tautra in Norway.

This month, on March 25, the newly transplanted nuns will celebrate the first anniversary of their foundation, as well as the 793rd anniversary of the first introduction of Cistercian life to this island in the Trondheim fjord. (Trappistines are a subset of Cistercians.) But since 1537, when Lutheranism was introduced to the country, there have been no Cistercians rising before dawn and praying their way through the day in Norway.

In 1998, Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey received a surprising invitation from Norwegian religious and civic officials. They were asked to found an abbey of Catholic cloistered nuns in a country that is 99 percent Lutheran. Trappistine constitutions and statutes advise them to "examine the possibility of a foundation not only prudently but also boldly and generously, considering whether they wish to participate in a monastic manner in fulfilling the mission of evangelization as the contemplative presence of the Church. …

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