Gifts of gold, frankincense, mirth

From left: Sr. Jean Greenwald, Sr. Rosemary Hufker, and Sr. Vincella Lake, all School Sisters of Notre Dame, enjoy an Augustinian moment at Sunday brunch before Greenwald returned to Austria. (Ann Marie Bonvie, SSND)

As School Sisters of Notre Dame, our Rule of Life is based on the Rule of St. Augustine. Sometimes I feel his honesty in his Confessions was partly because he lived "community" with such commitment. His companions had taught him to see beyond his own blind spots, to rejoice in another point of view, and to meet truth in the charming chaos of community living.

His love of community is expressed in the following selections from Book IV of Confessions:

What drew me closest to my sisters (brothers) was the delight of the laughing and chatting together; of showing our affection for one another by kindly services; of reading together from books that spoke of pleasant things; of joking together amicably; of disputing now and then but without resentment, as one is wont to do with (one)self; of awakening by rare contest the pleasure of being one in mind; of mutually instructing one another; of longing for the absent one(s), and tasting the joy of (their) return. We loved each other with all our hearts, and these marks of our friendship that were shown in our faces, by our voices, in our eyes and a thousand other ways were among us like ardent flames that fused our souls together and of many made but one.

I experienced this Augustinian description of community recently when we welcomed a community member home for a short visit. She is stationed in Austria, forming community with two other SSNDs who are teaching English and German to Syrian, Pakistani, and other refugees.

It was a joy to welcome her home, to hear her laughter, catch the spark of love in her eyes, and simply wonder: "How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" As much as we enjoyed having her home, we also supported her return, encouraging her to "be sent" and leave all that is familiar to return to her mission. It was a bittersweet moment when she returned to Austria.

This strengthening of our sisterhood as we sent her to follow the call of Christ came through tears of gratitude for who she is.

As we laughed and simply enjoyed each other, there was a bond of sisterhood that came alive just as Augustine described. In that moment, we were supporting our sister who would be returning to her Austrian community, bringing this love of the "chatting and laughing together" with her.

Even as she experiences the challenges of new languages, customs, food, modes of transportation, expectations of dialogue, variations of church, political overtones regarding being an American in a European country, all call for a deepening of our Augustinian roots.

This expression of joy — sitting at brunch after sharing a Sunday Eucharist — fills me with gratitude for the gift of sisterhood in our Augustinian community.

And as we sat together sharing stories, experiencing Augustine's "chatting and laughing together," I was reminded of a moment in an RCIA class when a new member of the church was invited to read the Gospel for Epiphany. With a little hesitancy, she read: "And they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and mirth."

We accepted her misreading of "myrrh" as prophetic utterance, and I continue to delight in my memory of this new version of the gifts each Epiphany.

In gifting one another with "mirth" in community, we have often shared funny things students have said. Here for you to enjoy this Christmas season are a few samples I've heard from my students:

"Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in San Diego to a poor pheasant named Juan."

"The Council of Chalcedon affirms Jesus' human and diving natures."

What Italian word did Pope John XXIII use to describe updating of the church? "Pope Pius X." (The answer was "aggiornamento.")

"Kateri Tekawitha wanted to be a lifelong virgin."

"Indulgence money was used to build St. Peter's Vasillica."

"St. Francis of Assisi along with St. Clare gave up all his wealth to help animals."

"St. Patrick converted the people of Italy."

"Alexander Pope was one of our better popes, creating the rhyming couplet."

"A priest is a medicator between God and humanity." (The student meant "mediator.")

"There is a storage of priests." (The student meant "shortage.")

"Denomination: groups of people who are in line waiting for Christ."

In restating the Ten Commandments, one student responded: "There shall be no wars and things should be talked over sophisticatedly."

"Inclusive language is a language few people know."

"A brother is a man who takes three vows of poverty, chastity, and something else."

"Evangelize means to preach about God in a salesman sort of way."

"I really liked the miracle of Jesus healing the woman with the hemorrhoid." (The student meant the woman with the hemorrhage.)

Sharing humor is another way for my community to live our Augustinian spirit. May it inspire moments of generous "letting go" that forms community.

[Judith Best is a School Sister of Notre Dame and coordinator of She gives presentations on the heritage of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and is also exploring evolution as the bridge between science and religion.]