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Madeline Contorno, OSB

Sister Madeline Contorno, OSB, is a Benedictine Sister of Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, AL. A Golden Jubilarian this year, she has ministered as religious educator, grief counselor, hospice chaplain, and diocesan Renew coordinator. For the last 20 years she has been a pastoral associate in parishes in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. She has served her community in several capacities as vocation director, community secretary, member of monastic council, chapter delegate. Sister Madeline’s reflections provide some “mystagogy” to reflect upon the Scriptures of the Easter Season leading to Pentecost Sunday.


Pentecost

June 5, 2022, Pentecost
Madeline Contorno, OSB, Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, AL.

Many years ago when I was in San Francisco for a conference, I had the opportunity to visit the Cathedral of St. Mary’s of the Assumption. The exterior of the cathedral showed a strikingly modern design, and the interior contained seven prominent Marian panels depicting the Blessed Mother as the model of discipleship. The panels included events such as the Visitation, the Wedding Feast of Cana, the Crucifixion. But it was the panel depicting Mary at Pentecost that captivated me. 

The artist displayed Mary, surrounded by the disciples, at the epicenter of the Pentecost event, and to my surprise, Mary looked pregnant! After some reflection, a window of understanding opened for me. Just as Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, at Pentecost she was again filled with the Holy Spirit, but this time giving birth to the Church itself, “those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Mary, our Blessed Mother, was pregnant at Pentecost with all humanity! I loved this reimagining of the “birthday event of the Church” and have never forgotten it. 

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Ascension

May 29, 2022, Ascension Sunday (Ascension Thursday, May 26
Madeline Contorno, OSB, Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, AL

As a child growing up in the years when space exploration was new, I would excitedly watch every space launch on TV, always catching my breath as the “blast off” from earth shook the spacecraft loose from its moorings through fiery clouds of smoke. My eyes were fixed skyward, gradually letting go of any tension I felt as the spacecraft disappeared safely out of sight. Mine was the decade when President John F. Kennedy set “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth” as the national goal. And quite amazingly on July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong took that “one giant leap for mankind” as he stepped onto the moon.  It was a time of great awe inspired by the ingenuity of humans and the triumph of science. 

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Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 22, 2022, Sixth Sunday of Easter and Seventh Sunday of Easter
(We will post the readings for Ascension on Sunday, May 29)
Madeline Contorno, OSB, Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, AL.

If you live in a diocese that celebrates Ascension on Sunday, you will miss one of the gospel selections for either the Sixth or the Seventh Sunday of Easter. But taken together, these two gospels from John 14:23-29 and John 17: 20-26 offer insights into the mind of Jesus on the night before he died. His last will and testament are the gift of peace and a prayer for unity. How sorely we need both today.

In the gospel of the Sixth Sunday of Easter, facing a tortuous death on Calvary, Jesus speaks of peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27). At a time when he himself was most troubled, he encourages his friends not to be troubled or afraid, but to receive God’s shalom and entrust their lives to a divine Spirit that would transcend the dark moment. For Jesus, peace is not dependent on the circumstances, no matter how dire. Peace is dependent on his absolute trust in God’s love.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 15, 2022, Fifth Sunday of Easter
Madeline Contorno, OSB, Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, AL.

The Sunday Gospels of Easter provide “mystagogy” for us as disciples of the Risen Lord. Just as the newly baptized are called to unpack and explore the rich sacramental life they have received at Easter, we too are invited to explore our faith more deeply as the Easter season unfolds from week to week.

This Sunday we begin to hear selections from the “Farewell Discourse” of John’s Gospel, that begins with the washing of the disciples’ feet in chapter 13, and extends through the high priestly prayer of Jesus in chapter 17. In these chapters, Jesus gives crucial insights into living in paschal union with him. Without this broader context, we may take today’s gospel too lightly when he directs us “to love one another as I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35). What does it really mean to love one another as Jesus has loved us?

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 8, 2022, Fourth Sunday of Easter
Madeline Contorno, OSB, Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, AL.

A casual visitor to our monastery chapel may not notice the stained-glass window of the “Good Shepherd” located among the lower tier of chapel windows. But this “Good Shepherd” window has always comforted me, depicting Jesus as deeply compassionate, willing to take the lost sheep upon his shoulders, ready to lay down his life for his flock.

St. Benedict highlights Christ as Good Shepherd in the Holy Rule, writing in chapter 27, “Let them follow the loving example of the Good Shepherd who, leaving the ninety-nine sheep in the mountains, went to seek the one that had gone astray. So great was his compassion for its weakness that he mercifully placed it on his sacred shoulders and thus carried it back to the fold (cf. Luke 15:5).” Most important for any monastery, Benedict implies, is a deep well of compassion exemplified by the leadership and by the sisters for one another. 

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Third Sunday of Easter

May 1, 2022, Third Sunday of Easter
Madeline Contorno, OSB, Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, AL.

A couple of weeks ago the play Fiddler on the Roof, the 1964 Broadway classic, came to the city where I live. The play, one of my all-time favorites, is the tale of Tevye the dairyman, his wife Golde, and his family’s struggles in a changing Russia. The three oldest of his five daughters are dealing with unusual marriages. He wrestles to recognize their feelings yet uphold revered Jewish traditions. The play is remembered for such heartwarming songs as “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” and “Sunrise, Sunset.”

As I reflected on the gospel for this Third Sunday of Easter, and the questioning of Peter at the seashore, one of the songs of Fiddler came to mind, the song “Do You Love Me?” Juxtaposing the two encounters brought me some deeper insights into my relationship with the Lord.

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Second Sunday of Easter

April 24, 2022, Second Sunday of Easter
Madeline Contorno, OSB, Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, AL.

How can we possibly process the meaning and wonder of the Risen Christ? When I reflected on the Scripture readings for the Easter Octave, I was fascinated by the varied responses of the people who first experienced the reality of resurrection. Each has a personal Easter story, each has a personal response. Perhaps their experiences and responses model our own.

In the liturgy for the day after Easter, Matthew’s gospel speaks of the women who are “fearful yet overjoyed” when they witness the empty tomb and encounter the Risen Lord. This new reality is totally unsettling for them yet filled with unimagined possibilities. The chief priests and authorities, on the other hand, respond to this same reality as a threat to their status quo, and quickly devise a plan to discredit the new reality and spread fake news. Will the women dare proclaim a message rooted in their own experience yet directly at odds with more prevalent voices?

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