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Roberta Bailey, OSB

Sister Roberta Bailey is prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Florida. Her experience ranges from Montessori infant care to college instructor and accreditation consultant. In her “spare” time she holds positions on boards for Saint Leo University, Pasco County domestic violence prevention programs, public school advisory committees, and the local Chamber of Commerce. Sister Roberta’s warm and inviting reflections are peppered with questions for each of us. Spend some time with her thoughts and questions and see where they lead you on your journey.

Sister Roberta's reflections begin with Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019 and continue through August 28, 2019.

Week of August 25

Week of August 25-31
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

A Reflection on Work

Next weekend our nation will celebrate Labor Day. Strangely we honor it by the opposite of its name. In many respects it is a Workers’ Holiday. Labor Day was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894. Since then each year on the first Monday in September we pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. You may also know about the celebrations to honor employees on May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Here in our monastery we host our employees at special Thank You Luncheon in gratitude for their services and presence. The day is topped off with early release time. They disappear after lunch – it’s a paid half-day. That includes the cook for the evening meal. (Oh, dear!) Thankfully we have a long-time association with some loyal volunteers who take over the kitchen to provide a home-prepared fish fry with our favorite Southern trimmings: grits with butter or cheese, hush puppies, coleslaw and ice cream novelty bars for dessert; beer or soft drinks. God bless them everyone!

So, in honor of all workers, even the tiniest among us, let’s talk a bit about workers and work styles. We often hear the expression “a little child shall lead.” With the opening of a new school year and Labor Day weekend fast upon us it seems to me fitting that we let little children lead us to a rightful understanding of “work.”

For many years I enjoyed ministry as a Montessori directress in programs for children ages six months to six years. One of the observable differences between children and adults is the contrast between their attitudes toward work.

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Week of August 18

Week of August 18-24
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

A Stroll Down Memory Lane
There is a saying I remember from long ago. Maybe you do, too. Seems like there was a chant-like melody we used but Google can’t find it. It went like this:
Monday: Wash Day ~ Tuesday: Ironing Day ~ Wednesday: Sewing Day ~ Thursday: Market Day ~ Friday: Cleaning Day ~ Saturday: Baking Day ~ Sunday: Day of Rest. Some sources have Churn day on Thursday. Seems more probable – folks didn’t go to town as often as we duck into the store on the way home from work. 

In bygone days, each of these tasks took the better part of a day so it was wise to devote an entire day to each chore. There were rules, too, for the performance of each chore. That’s why back when we who are now “keenagers” (a new term, I love it – for those of us over 55) were in the novitiate the directives on how to clean and scrub almost anything were taken in stride. It was a wee bit comforting (or maybe to some annoying) to be reminded of home as we scoured the pots and pans, scrubbed the floor on our knees or polished furniture with a homemade concoction of olive oil and vinegar “just like mom did.” 

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Week of August 11

Week of August 11-17
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

This week in the U.S. the LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) will be convening in Scottsdale, Arizona. Let us pray for the leaders of women’s communities – and not solely for them – but for all levels of leadership in communities of women religious. May they be women of faith, alive in hope. They and all of us must live in hope with the assurance that however things turn out it makes sense in God’s plan. Our daily stance must be the words of the psalmist: Stay awake and be ready.

Several years ago, Mother Teresa appeared on the Hour of Power television program. The host, Pastor Robert Schuller, reminded her that the show was being broadcast all over America and in 22 foreign countries, including her native Yugoslavia. He asked her if there was one message that she would like to convey to all those viewers. Her response was, "Yes, tell them to pray. And tell them to teach their children to pray."

Sadly, we live in an age where there seems to be little hope in our world. Jesus keeps reminding us to trust God. He encourages us to let go of our resentments, our doubts and our fears. He urges us to remember that there is never a storm so tumultuous that He cannot bring us to safety. There is no night so dark that His light cannot penetrate it. Nothing is going to happen to us that, with His grace, we can’t handle. When hurricane winds howl, and tornado winds whip around us or flood waters are rising we have to remind ourselves that prayer is our most powerful and most reliable force. 

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Week of August 4

Week of August 4-10
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they DO NOT UNDERSTAND, but the passages that bother me the most are those I DO UNDERSTAND. —Mark Twain

“What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest? This is what I shall do: I shall build a larger barn.” —Luke 12:18

Now, I suspect most people figure that Jesus was making reference to a barn such as we see on a farm or ranch. A familiar sight? But, I wonder, could we also apply the story to the “barns” that we build in our living spaces?

Ever notice how people (not you, of course) cannot leave a counter bare? Or a closet empty? Or a room, without using it for storage of some kind? Some people do not want to leave “green space” in nature or their lives. We increase storage space instead of disposing of excessive possessions – furniture, clothing, “things.” What is it that compels us to accumulate rather than dispossess? Sometimes it is just easier to plunk it down and not have to deal with how to pass it on to a needy person. When you hear word of a community yard sale do you wait so long to make a choice of what you could donate that the event passes you by? Or worse, you attend the sale and find some treasures and bargains that call out to you, “I’m yours.” Yes, your few pennies may have supported a worthy cause. But your contribution of items for the sale may have served a dual purpose of supporting the cause AND unburdening your jam-packed closet and some of the clutter in your life.

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Week of July 28

Celebrating the Gift of Friendship
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

The two sections in this Sunday’s gospel — the prayer of Jesus and the reminder that when we seek, we shall find, and that our knock and will open the door — are each a comforting promise of God’s personal gift of friendship. So, I’d like to share with you a story of friendship — imaginary but nonetheless one that I trust will touch your heart.

If you listen for my bell, I promise I will listen for yours.

(Author unknown – adapted)

Just up the road from our monastery is a field with two horses in it. From a distance, each looks like any other horse. But, if you stop your car, or are working or walking nearby, you will notice something quite amazing. Looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that he is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him put down but has made a good home for him. This alone is amazing.

When you are nearby, and you are really listening, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to her halter is a small bell. It lets her blind friend know where she is, so he can follow her.

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Week of July 21

Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

Blessed are those whom I find awake when I come. Truly, I tell you, I will dress for service and have them recline at table, and I will come and serve them. —Luke 12:37

This week we travel with Jesus as he enters “a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.” Looking around you’ll notice that her sister Mary is sitting “beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.” Was Martha feeling jealous of Jesus’ attention to Mary, wishing she could trade places? Did resentment edge its way into her heart? 

Martha’s self-pity, “don’t you even care that I am stuck in the kitchen?” draws this from Jesus, “Only one thing is necessary.” It causes us to realize that I, as an individual, do not have to do it all. This is evident in many Benedictine communities’ practice of taking only one role in a single liturgy. We acknowledge that liturgy is a communal act where all present are on the same level: differing in gifts but equal in importance. Everything needs to get done, there are plenty of roles to share: leaders and readers, singers and keyboardists, gift bearers and petitioners, Eucharistic ministers and the celebrant. At times our ranks may be slim, especially when members are away or illness prohibits participation, but we strive to engage everyone in the liturgical action. >>>Read the full post

Week of July 14

Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

“The strength of the wolf is the pack; the strength of the pack is the wolf.” — Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book

It’s showtime!! Let’s catch a not-so-new movie on Netflix. Last summer in cinemas across the country there was a film that I found full of symbolism: of life together, affirmation, mutual respect and social action on behalf of someone who does not match the profile of the dominant group. It was a story of adoption—of love, loyalty, compassion and unity despite differences. It was a wild ride into joy through dark, scary even lonely times, It tells of fear, daring, urging and support. The colors in the film are vivid, not to go unnoticed, adding spark that highlights the action. It's filled with lessons learned across the generations, from pesky personalities, wise elders, the words of a master and the reminders of the mother-figure. Lessons that surprise us, encourage or ring true from life's experiences, learned in quiet contemplative moments and commitment to a cause greater than one's self. 

Throughout the film there's music, sometimes driving the scene, oft times very loud, other times just a hint in the background: soothing, melodic, asking to be heard. It's an unsuspecting portrayal of life-in-community captured in 90 minutes of Disney Magic called The Jungle Book. The author of the tale that is the basis of the movie, Rudyard Kipling, and the film-makers might be surprised to hear it likened to Benedictine vowed life. Let’s adapt the words of one line in the script, and you’ll see what I mean. In the film the older, wiser, mentor wolf says to the “novice” wolf-kid, “The strength of the wolf is the pack; the strength of the pack is the wolf.” In my “monastic” version, let it read: “The strength of the community is the member; the strength of the member is the community.” Sounds a bit like “All for one; one for all.” >>>Read the full post

Week of July 7

Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

The “softer” parts of the Rule were undoubtedly influenced by Benedict’s companionship with his twin sister Scholastica.

This coming Thursday (July 11) we Benedictines will be celebrating the summer feast of St. Benedict. In honor of this occasion, I invite you to spend some time with me pondering the “Benedict Effect” in our lives and the life of our society. 

For over 1,500 years, St. Benedict’s simple principles of living together under God's love have guided men and women in monasteries and beyond. His wisdom has guided Benedictine Oblates in their work places and in their homes. Persons who have never heard of St. Benedict, upon becoming acquainted with his code of life, discover his down-to-earth guidelines are the means to the balanced, peaceful life they have been seeking. 

Benedict was a man of great wisdom, compassion and common sense. We know that after some time living with his original Rule, he added advice based on his lived experience with a great variety of characters. Imagine having to warn his men not to sleep with knives, to wear clean underwear on a trip, for the learned to help those who could not read. His prudence shines through when, in so many words, he says, “this is what works for us now – if the schedule of psalmody, the horarium (daily schedule) and other communal living details don’t fit your need, change it.” >>>Read the full post

Week of June 30

Week of June 30 - July 6
4th of July week
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

Our issue in life is not whether we shall be burdened. The question is with what we shall be burdened – to what will we be yoked?

This week we will celebrate the birthday of our country (4th of July). Sometimes during the U. S. Independence Day celebrations, we hear quoted all or part of the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… send these, the homeless tempest-tossed to me.” One of the Gospel choices for the 4th of July (the same as for the feast of the Sacred Heart) is taken from Matthew, Chapter 11. Jesus offers rest to those “who labor and are burdened.” Listen again to the words of invitation: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… send these, the homeless tempest-tossed to me.” Let us pray that these are not just words — may they truly reflect the attitude of our peoples, our government.

I find it interesting that every state in the union has some reference to God, Lord, Christ or a “supreme being.” For instance, here in Florida the constitution opens with the words, We, the people of the State of Florida, being grateful to Almighty God for our constitutional liberty….” Nine state constitutions specifically deny unbelievers the right to hold office and/or to serve on a jury. We pray this week that God will guide our country, beginning with us, to be a more inclusive, compassionate people. 

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Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ

Week of June 23-29
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

Where may I eat today? Where may I rest?

With the singing of 1st Vespers on Saturday evening we began our celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ — once called Corpus Christi (but that only refers to the Body of Christ). Some of us of a certain generation remember huge Corpus Christi processions which brought the body of Christ into the streets around our parishes. The body of Christ is still in our streets because we are there.

Can you recall when this was an “all-day-in-church” occasion with processions and Benediction in three separate locations? I can remember that but what I recall most vividly is feeling of curlers in my hair. I had VERY straight, stringy hair (only a perm changed that later). Braids and ponytails were OK for everyday wear but not appropriate for Sunday Mass, especially for a procession. So, I slept with hard curlers and toilet paper twists in my hair to make curls that barely lasted until the end of Mass. Home from church it was time to secure my limping curls with bobby pin twists to get me through the afternoon procession. Not a very holy memory (what we do for Jesus!) but one that certainly marks this day as special. 

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Solemnity of the Trinity

Week of June 16-22
Solemnity of the Trinity
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

Jesus was a story-teller par excellence. He learned his skill at his mother’s knee

Some say, “two’s company, three’s a crowd,” but today’s feast would have it otherwise. In this instance, the three symbolizes completeness and perfect symmetry. The Holy Trinity is a mystery beyond the grasp of human reasoning. The nice things about mysteries is that they can be talked about. They can be described. They have clues that our minds can grasp. But a mystery remains a mystery unless and until we grasp it in totality. When it comes to God, we simply cannot grasp the total reality of God (as they say) “on this side of the grass.” So, God gives us clues like what happened at Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. When Jesus stood before his cousin John, the Spirit hovered and the God’s voice was heard, “This is my beloved Son.” 

You may have heard the expression, when referring to age, “70 is the new 50.” Well, in Scripture seven is considered to be a sacred, perfect number. However, today’s feast, the solemnity of the Trinity, tempts me to say “three is the new seven.” 

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Feast of Pentecost

Week of June 9-15
Feast of Pentecost
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

Good morning, my Friends! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do greater works than I have done.”

Can you recall a time (or two or three) when you were anticipating with dread a hard conversation you felt compelled to have with a confrere or co-worker, maybe an aging parent, a good friend? You just did not know what you were going to say. You ask yourself, “How can I be both diplomatic and kind; tactful and yet honest?” You imagined every possible scenario, picturing how your words would come out; how the other person would react. Then, when the actual conversation took place, you hardly recognized what came forth from your own lips — it was tender, persuasive but firm; you weren’t sweating or tense … the right words just sort of flowed out of you and rained gently on the loved one. That was a “Spirit Moment.” Remember, in Luke, Jesus tells us, “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Do we really believe Jesus? 

The Holy Spirit is probably the least understood Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Holy Spirit is not an “it.” The Holy Spirit is a Person — not someTHING, but, someONE. In 1st Corinthians we read that the Holy Spirit is in you. That means a personal relationship — a special, intimate relationship with the Spirit. Maybe you are not really comfortable praying to the Spirit — your relationship has been mainly with Jesus or God. Don’t start squirming … you already know the Spirit of God. Jesus told you: God and I are one…. and I will send you the Spirit. You affirm this every time you bless yourself, “In the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.”

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Solemnity of the Ascension

Week of June 2-8
Solemnity of the Ascension
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

The Angel Gabriel asked Jesus, “What’s your Plan B?”

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Really? The “whole world” and to “every creature?” And, Jesus, that part about picking up serpents with my bare hands! That’s asking a lot. But — putting fear and trembling and any hesitation aside — it is our mission. We are those commissioned to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of life and love, of hope and peace, by the witness of our lives. 

We sing about our commissioning in the hymn text by Jeffrey Rowthorn: “Lord, you gave the great commission … with the spirit’s gifts empowering us, for the work of ministry.” The disciples, and we, are being entrusted and enabled to continue Jesus’ own work — to share the news of God’s love in word and deed. And, not only that, but to invite those who receive it to be co-workers in bringing the kingdom to fruition.

If we are com-missioned then we have a shared mission, a common goal. It’s easy to lose sight of our mission in the excitement that surrounds proposed projects, ministerial opportunities, personal pursuits. New projects can have a special appeal but if they do not reflect our community (or company) mission, they are not for us. Or, we need to go back to the drawing board, discern and endorse a new statement of mission.

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Week of May 26-June 1
    Peace—This Monday we celebrate Memorial Day
    Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

Memorial Day is an American holiday honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. It was originally called Decoration Day – a day to honor deceased soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers, flags and wreaths. Although Memorial Day became its official title in the 1880s, the holiday wouldn't legally be called Memorial Day until 1967 and its designation as a federal holiday came in 1971.

Enough history trivia! The holiday prompts us to take some time to ponder the toll that war and violence have taken, and continues to take, on our society. And lest that image overwhelm us we are moved to, “raise our eyes and bow our heads” (I’ve never figured out just how to do that?) and plead for peace to prevail in our hearts and in the world. 

I suspect that one of Benedict’s favorite words must have been PAX, PEACE. But he doesn’t promote an attitude of “peace at any cost.” Agreeing with another simply to avoid conflict too often comes to haunt us in the form of inner turmoil, headaches and stomach ailments. 

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Now Is God's Glory Revealed

Week of May 19-25
"Now Is God's Glory Revealed"
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

Jesus promises us, “Now is my glory revealed.” He told the apostles, and He remind us, “I give you a NEW commandment: Love one another.” Really – a new commandment? Isn’t that what His life was all about? He took three of his friends up a mountain to give them glimpse of His glory. But first they had to hike up that mountain with him. 

He calls each one of us to examine what mountain we must climb to see God’s glory. You can call the mountains whatever you will – it’s your personalized mount to climb: hurdles, challenges, enticing temptations, near occasions of sin, quirks of personality, broken resolutions, pet peeves…. Some days they are like a little pebble on our path that we kick aside. Other days, they can be like grains of sand inside our shoe – no bother when we are sitting still but the instant we start to move, it quickly makes itself felt. Other days, they are like boulders we can’t move with a backhoe. Everyone’s mountain is different but, to witness God’s glory, we must climb the mountain with our name on it.

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A Miracle – Answer to a Mother’s Plea

Week of May 12-18
A Miracle – Answer to a Mother’s Plea: do whatever he tells you.
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

Jesus’ miracles have never stopped happening. Every moment of every day He pours himself into the empty jars of our lives. He is the good wine: extravagant, abundant, endless. We can’t understand how it happens. We don’t know how it happens. We only know that it does happen. We’ve experienced it and witnessed moments when death is turned into life, sorrow into joy, and despair into hope. We’ve been surprised when fear was transformed into courage and we’ve seen people do things they never thought possible. We’ve done what we thought was impossible! We’ve known moments when empty lives have been filled back up. We can almost hear Mary giving us a cue from the sidelines, "Do whatever he tells you."

When the wine runs out and you are confused—but others are looking for answers—do what Mary said, do whatever he tells you.

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Prayer: Week of May 5

Week of May 5-11
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

“I know that God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” —Saint Teresa of Calcutta

I find it curious that the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray “just as John taught his disciples.” They wanted the words, didn’t they, for certainly Jesus had given them an example of prayer. He had modeled time alone, told them to “go to your room and pray,” raised his eyes, hands and voice in intercessory prayer before miraculous healings. But they, like we, wanted “the words to say.” We forget sometimes that when we descend into our hearts in silent waiting that it is there that we meet the Spirit who is already praying within us.

We look for “words,” don’t we … in a prayer book, on a holy card, in the life of a saint …. We look for a guide, a director, a mentor. I don’t mean to belittle the worthwhile role these companions play in our lives, a role which is often critical to our spiritual growth and our salvation. We just need to keep in mind, and really believe, the tremendous role that Scripture plays in our lives. “The Spirit of Truth will show you all things,” Jesus said. St. Paul reminds us, “If you do these things you can be saved: be joyful at all times, pray without ceasing and give thanks for all things.”

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Divine Mercy Sunday

Week of April 28-May 4
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

This weekend we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. That raises a question: How can we learn mercy if we never see mercy in action? That thought alone should be an impetus to model a spirit of mercy in all our interactions. Mercy isn’t weakness – it takes patience, insight, control of your tongue, a peaceful spirit to be merciful. 

The celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday is a relatively new addition to our church calendar. It was first promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 2000, the day that he canonized Saint Faustina. Christ appeared to a Polish nun, Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska, in a series of visions that took place over almost eight years. In one of the visions, Christ asked Sister Faustina to pray for nine days, beginning on Good Friday and ending on the Saturday after Easter—the eve of the Octave of Easter. Thus, since the 9 days of a novena are commonly prayed in advance of a feast, the Feast of Divine Mercy—Divine Mercy Sunday—was born to be celebrated at the close of Easter Week.

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Easter Sunday

April 21-27
Roberta Bailey, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Florida

This is an Easter story only because it happened one Easter Sunday. It has nothing to do with chocolate bunnies, jelly beans or hidden colorful eggs. It has little to do with Easter themes like ladies visiting an empty grave, spreading word of their finding (or lack of finding) or the story of Jesus’ resurrection. But it is my BEST Easter story. I hope you can feel my joy in remembering it ... let it ignite a smile, too, and resurrect a story of your own.

It started on Good Friday - I think I was eight years old. A neighbor had shared a collection of her daughter’s hand-me-down dresses! All the dresses I had were made my mother - probably the envy of many of my friends’ mothers. But, I longed for a store-bought dress. And, here was a bagful of wonder - store-bought dresses that would fit me (and neither of my sisters). 

I unpacked my treasures oohing and aahing over one after another pretty little dress. Then there was this perfect one! It had pockets ALL THE WAY AROUND the skirt in a continuous line, edged with white eyelet trim. My mother shook her head. “No,” she said, “You just don’t wear plaid on Easter.”

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