God’s Beauty Abounds
From the moment my friend Cindy emailed me about Holy Name Monastery I was intrigued by the idea having really no idea at all what I might experience in such a place or what to expect. Coming from the cold of Canada, the setting here surrounded by fields of hay bales is postural and soothing to the soul and, of course, birds abound here and as a birder my eye is always directed upward. The eastern bluebird makes its nest just feet away from the lovely wicker furniture outside my guest room where I sit each afternoon with binoculars. I pinch myself at the good fortune of landing here in what appears to me to be as close to Paradise as one can come on Earth. It is a thrill to hear the sound of the Mockingbird and the melodic singing of hosts pinch and tiny palm warblers feeding on the ground with tails bobbing up and down. A momentary visit of a pine warbler in breeding plumage sets my heart aglow. Surely the Creator has kissed this place with such beauty and bounty as I bask in the sunshine surrounded by palm trees and beautiful roses in bloom tended by the Sisters.
And then there are the Sisters themselves – these amazing, interesting, intelligent, intriguing soles moving about. Many appearing my age but still working and giving life to the community. I hear their stories – many find new vocations here at the monastery, some working at a daycare with children, others involved in the running of Daystar which is the nearby food bank and second hand store, still others are doing service throughout the day directly in the monastery. One of the Sisters is doing an art form known as an icon in the Art Studio while another works with volunteers in the hydroponic aquaponic Greenhouse. The various jobs both within the monastery complex and the surrounding community are the blessing of many hands, reminding me of the Book of Ecclesiastes, toil under the sun.
This is a functioning community of Sisters living out their lives day by day giving and receiving, ebbing and flowing, experiencing joys and sorrows as they dwell in unity under the sun. They are so precious and I delight in each of them – their personalities and realness. All I behold each day as I interact with them is real community, community I’ve been longing for. I even had the privilege of watching conflict resolution occur just before the meal began one evening at the supper table. These folks are amazing they know how to do it well! Conflict resolved smiling again. We in the wider world could benefit from such wisdom and respect for one another with all pulling together as a team. There is no place here for selfish indulgence – in harmony as the body of Christ is meant to function. Everyone matters. It is sweet to behold. What comes out of the kitchen is fabulous and so healthy. How could it be any less with that amazing, environmentally friendly greenhouse supplying some of what appears on the table daily.
I looked forward each day to being in the presence of these dear Sisters and their fellowship over such a banqueting table. Surely the Lord is in this place. I sampled different experiences with the Sisters going to Daystar to work for the morning, being invited to do a little job in the greenhouse, attending a Bluegrass Mass at the Abbey, a lecture at the Abbey, explored the Saint Leo University campus across the street. I got account of some 15 bird favorites being the sandhill crane and the anhinga as well as a mature bald eagle and pear of osprey circling over the lake. This is a beautiful part of the world!
On Wednesday afternoon I meet Heather, another guest, who was reading Henry Nowlin’s book and I knew I had to get my hands on that small book with a powerful message. By the time I finished reading it, I began feeling the Holy Spirit wooing me back to him with a gentle conviction to come into that solitude, that place of intimacy with Him again where we meet face-to-face with the Living God. As is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes all else is vanity. To know God and to love him who first loved us with all our heart, mind, and soul is to be our pursuit. Deep calling, drawn back to the source so that once again the Springs of Living Water John 7:37 can bubble-up in us and overflow onto others. And so, my heart’s cry is for the Lord to light the fire that once burned bright and clear that all else might be received. In the stillness I will wait to hear your voice and be satisfied.
Thank you for this beautiful, quiet place of rest and reflection that draws one deeper into the heart of His love. Fear God and keep His Commandments.
Carol Klar – March 2018
My name is Trang Pham and this is my fourth retreat at Holy Name Monastery. Each time, I came for a different reason. I felt like I needed time to pray before I start my married life I also want to renew myself in this Lent. I told myself that I had to plan for a retreat. I knew that he Sisters had moved to a new location. I searched online, wrote down the phone number and went to bed. The next morning, I asked my mother permission. I take care of my niece and God sister so got permission for them to come with me. The sate was schedule and I planned what we would do and what I wanted to teach the girls.
Holy Name was the right place for our retreat. We joined in the Eucharist and Morning/Evening Praise, meals with the Sisters, prayed the Rosary, and Lectio Divina. Walks around the Monastery and over to the campus of Saint Leo University combined to refresh our relationship with God. We went home with peace in our heart and mind. The girls loved the retreat and want to come back for another one.
Thank you to all the Benedictine Sisters of Florida.
Trang Pham – March 2019
Volunteering has always been part of my life since the age of 15 when I became a Candy Striper at a Jewish hospital in Louisville, KY. Since then I have volunteered at schools, churches, hospitals, community and religious organizations. It is a way for me not only to contribute whatever skills and gifts that I have to help others, but a way to learn and enrich myself from the experience. It has given me the opportunity to meet people and see places such as Honduras, Mexico, Russia and Israel.
Nearing retirement age, I knew volunteering was still to be in the mix. Having visited the Benedictine Sisters of Florida in years past, Holy Name came to mind and a move-in date was scheduled. My jobs as a live-in volunteer were varied – everything from cleaning-out a storage warehouse to data entry in the business office! I participated in daily Mass and prayers, enjoyed dining with the Sisters, and playing cards and scrabble on Sunday evenings.
The time spent with the Benedictine Sisters of Florida bring the key words “community” and “balance” to mind. It is a community of believers that are committed to serving God and mankind through prayers and works. Those concepts are not just ethereal ideas in the clouds, but are implemented at the ground level in living, working, and praying together. There is encouragement to try again each day to be Christ to others and to see Christ in others. Are there disagreements? Yes. But the struggles are part of community life the same as it is in birth families or in church communities. Working through conflicts results in spiritual growth. When I listened to someone else’s viewpoint that is opposite of mine, just the act of listening opens the door to the possibility that God will show me a new perspective or help me perceive and understand differently. Listening with the ear of the heart is a Benedictine concept that I have tried to embrace. I’m still working on it!
What was unexpected for me was that a monastery is much noisier and busier than I’d ever imagined.
Someone said, “It’s all about the journey.” I’m still on that “Long and Winding Road” that leads me back to you God. Being part of this community has given me some new concepts to put into action and helped me be more Christ-like. This is faith building – this is community building – this is participating in bringing the Kingdom of God into our world. I still have a long journey ahead of me. I am thankful for and grateful to these Benedictine women who are sharing part of my journey with me.
People will smile and call me “Flower Child,” though I’m 80, when they see the floral wreath atop my ancient Subaru. Why? they ask. Because it makes me happy, I say, and I hope it makes you happy too. We connect – perhaps a child, a truck driver, a fellow gardener.
My husband, Jerry and I are New Yorkers, but when he retired twelve years ago, we became “snow birds” in Tarpon Springs to winter near his family. After 56 years of marriage, Jerry died in New York last September and I moved permanently to our Florida home. I lost not only the love of my life, but wise friends and neighbors of 40 years, my Franciscan Spiritual Director, a vibrant church community, my many gardens and my Spiritual Home, Mount Saviour Benedictine Monastery. I have been an oblate there for all those 40 years.
Grateful for my countless blessings, I know God is emptying me to make more room for God. But what does this mean? I grieve and grieve deeply. Jesus is ever more with me now though I have followed His way all my life. Now the Spirit is calling me in my dawn meditations out of my darkness and my Valley of the Shadow. I trust, I wonder and I follow.
Three days ago, the Spirit led me to Holy Name. Truly a haven for this searching soul. The Sisters’ warm welcome, the prayerful chapel, the flourishing roses and aquaponic greenhouse, the privilege of my hands in the soil. At last, at last the welcome to weed God’s gardens, to care for the earth amid the calls of the wood storks, the smell of the newly mowed meadow, the celestial starlight. And on top of all these gifts, Sister Miriam has agreed to be my Spiritual Director. I will return monthly and see where this new journey leads me. Deo Gratias!
Judith Grant – August 2018
My Bucket List
Going to a monastery has always been on my bucket list. I am a mental health therapist and my husband is the pastor at a church, so a lot of times I find myself doing the work of God rather than resting in God. My husband gifted me a retreat to stay with the Benedictine Sisters for Mother’s Day. This is the best Mother’s Day gift I have received. I really enjoyed the solitude and opportunity to connect with God all while getting to interact with the sisters. I met with Sister Mary David daily and she gave several scriptures to reflect on and taught me the Benedictine was of doing this. While I was there I prayed, walked on the prayer circle, journaled, did the stations of the cross through the assistance of one of the sisters, went to the Abbey across the street, participated in the sisters prayer time and Mass, reflected on scripture, and, as Sister Mary David would say, I had a lot of Holy Leisure just being aware of the presence of God through nature. It was salve for my weary soul. I plan to come back (often) and am hoping to bring a group of woman from my church. I am very appreciative of the sisters and the opportunity for this type of retreat.
Karen Culbertson – May 2018
A “Spiritual B&B”
I recently had the opportunity to stay at Holy Name Monastery while attending a week-end graduate school conference at Saint Leo University. I had several reasons not to attend the conference because of the cost in travel from Virginia; leaving seven children (from age 3 to age 18); having to take time off my job as a 911 Dispatcher; and putting all my family responsibilities on my husband Brian’s shoulders.
We moms care for everyone – our children, husband, parents, friends and neighbors. Taking time to care for ourselves is not a priority. But have I ever learned by spending time with the Sisters! My husband (a fireman) and I have recently been arguing and having trouble solving our conflicts. Big decisions have been weighing me down over whether it would be best to wait to do my second year of graduate school; the advisability of keeping my very stressful job which I’ve held for ten years; and my marital relationship was as shaky as I was fearing…all keeping me from sleep and from thinking clearly.
My stay at the monastery was not planned nor was it what I expected, but the experience was profound. My stress level and insomnia were just accepted as part of my life. I never dreamed that spending time in such a quiet, peaceful place would bring such peace and awareness. The Sisters were incredibly nurturing and service oriented. Though not Catholic, I even decided to attend prayers and Mass. It was definitely God’s plan for me to be here! Even the meals with the Sisters brought me back to wonderful memories of my grandmother’s home and how it felt when she cared for me.
Being cared for and cared about by the Sisters, prayer, time to be introspective, walks in the gardens, talking to God and sleeping soundly, have brought me back to what is important. My perspective has dramatically changed, my energy is renewed and clarity is firm. I had no idea how much I needed that time. Even my husband, since my return home, has seen that I’m more relaxed and easier to talk with. And those big decisions have been made – I will attend my second year of grad school and next year begin a new career helping people in the field of social work.
Family life can still be hectic at times, but I’m grateful for a path and a new sensitivity to the importance of prayer and reflection in my life.
In telling all my friends and work colleagues about my stay, they said it sounds like a “Spiritual B&B.” For me, it is extraordinary that God brought me to Holy Name and a life-changing revelation whether I knew it was needed or not!
Kristina Moore – August 2017
A very nice gentleman on a personal retreat stopped by the Advancement Office. Settling the bill was on his mind. When asked if his stay was good, he replied “Yes, it was a meaningful couple of days.” It seems that he had some very real questions for God and thought being at Holy Name would be helpful in resolving what was troubling him. Hesitating for a moment, further explanation centered on the fact that answers were received. He seemed surprised yet pleased. ‘You know,’ he explained, ‘sometimes it takes much longer for God to respond, but this was fairly quick.’ With a big smile, the gentleman bid us farewell.”
Anonymous – October 2017