Sister Eileen and Sister Anna Marie Becker have created a shared tradition for the Associates here in their home on the grounds of Our Lady Queen of Peace Retreat Center in the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, Dancyville, Tennessee. It could not be an overstatement for most of us to say this tradition has come to serve as our Holy Week holiday gathering no less important to us than the homecoming we all feel when we go forth to celebrate the rest of the Easter weekend with our immediate families of origin. Coming to Sisters’ home we gather around the table as brothers and sisters in a family where Sister Eileen is our “Mother” and Sr. Anna Marie, our “Grandmother”. And, no less than ‘real’ brothers and sisters coming home for the holidays, we bring all our baggage along with heartfelt gladness to see each other for a sacred event.
We gather in the Retreat Center for Good Friday Stations of the Cross and the Passion of the Lord services. Afterwards we ascend to Sisters’ home up the hill. The Associates, the retreat center staff, Good Fridays’ Presiders, Fr. Mickey & Deacon Bill, and our significant others have all been invited to participate.
As they greet us with delight, hugs and kisses, the Sisters have an intoxicating, contagious joy that seems to dance through the house.Our somber liturgy is replaced with the highest sense of celebration. The paradox of the Passionist charism is in full play.
Much in advance, Sisters and Alma have been planning and preparing a banquet meal in the kitchen, the aroma of which fills the air. The house is spic and span. Egypt and Asia are checking out who is going to be playful and give them some petting.
The very first order of business, after Sister Eileen takes off her shoes and hustles everyone into a circle in the den, is the Sisters of the Cross and Passion Traditional & Ultimate Toast of the year, always with a glass (or two) of smooth Sherry. And soon we are all the merrier.
After our toast this year, Fr. Mickey gave Sr. Anna Marie the Anointing of the Sick, because she’s been very ill. It was powerfully healing and blessed us all to participate in the Sacrament with her. It also made me cry to think there will come days when we will gather there with her in Spirit only. However, the fact is, she will be there much as are the Associates who have passed on, or are inhibited from being with us due to work, distance, illness, or life circumstances.
Not long and the hors’dourves are being passed around and the wine glasses are being filled. Things are bustling in the kitchen. We can’t wait to taste the Italian cuisine because we know the marvelous cooks we have, as much as any good mother and her elder daughter, are in full charge of the kitchen.
Sisters recall the old days in the convent when Holy Week was a week of fasting and ultimate ‘spring cleaning’. They describe how after a week of fasting, prayer and hard, detailed work this toast would take their Spirits into ecstasy! They talk about how this feast is the pinnacle that exemplifies their charism and the Order.
They explain what this celebration has been like and meant to them in the course of their Religious life. For Sister Anna Marie this year was her 60th Jubilee! We find this captivating ~because all our life have we not wondered to our core, what is it really like to be a nun? And more specifically, what is it like to be a Sister within this order whose charism lives inside and draws each of us. For them to share their personal reflections with us is like peering through the window of something we’ve at one time or another imagined, been drawn to, perhaps even coveted. Many of us are perplexed. How is it that they honor us with these intimacies? We are certainly not deserving of this privilege.
Of course, like all good children, then we clean up! Everyone joins in clearing the table, putting food away with leftovers parceled out, washing, drying and putting up the dishes ,sharing more conversation, prayers, hugs and kisses, saying goodbye and making plans for next gathering.
The spiritual growth and fellowship, the heartaches and joys, we’ve shared at each of our regular monthly meetings reaches a peak on that evening, and must be a glimpse of what life is for the Order of the Sisters of the Cross & Passion. We feel kindred in mind, heart and spirit and it feels where each of us in our strengths and weaknesses are accepted for who we are, where we belong, by who we have come to love.We feel grateful and loved. We want to come back. It feels we’ve been home.
– Kathryn Barnoud – Tennessee Associate