The Ursuline community, in their ministry to those in need, embody St. Elizabeth’s invitation to make the plunge. As one sister told us, “That's what we do: we dive in and start, but we start small. And it opens things up in a way that you never thought it would.” She gave the example of Beatitude House, which began by providing housing and education to four families, and now provides services to women and children across three counties.
Over the past four years that I’ve been involved with the Ursulines, my goal has been to step out of my comfort zone and make this plunge. I’ve formed connections despite differences in age or other divisions, and have learned so much from listening to perspectives that differ from my own. Looking back, my initial involvement with the Ursulines had been a “plunge.” I first came to know the Ursulines when I was graduating from college, and after my initial interview, I decided to become a Companion in Mission. I didn’t know what to expect at the time. I moved into the guest room at the motherhouse, duffel bag in hand, not knowing what it would be like to stay in a convent. I didn’t know why, but the decision simply felt right and I appreciated the sisters' hospitality and that gave me confidence to face the unknown.
At that time in my life, I had been comfortable in the routine of college and the familiarity of that environment. I addressed the uncertainty of life after college by making the plunge and becoming a companion with the Ursulines. Now, as I prepare to graduate from my master’s program, I find myself at a similar crossroads. I’ve settled into a familiar routine here in West Virginia, and I feel both scared and excited about the possibilities that await.
In St. Elizabeth’s image of God’s ocean, I imagine these plunges and immersions as making waves. The journey, however, doesn’t stop there. The full title of our retreat was “Immersion and Reflection,” and the second component fits with St. Elizabeth’s ocean metaphor, too. Once we have immersed ourselves, upsetting the quiet waters of routine, the waves will eventually die down and we will be able to see images forming on the water’s surface, clear as a mirror. We got a glimpse of this stillness through the “reflection” part of our retreat.
Amidst our busy retreat schedule, we also had time for prayer. Our first evening, we gathered in chapel in front of the nativity set. We reflected on the pilgrimage of the magi (Matthew 2:1-12) using lectio divina. One of the young women gathered with us for retreat led us through the four steps of lectio divina: reading, meditation, contemplation, and prayer. In the end, we had read that same passage from Matthew’s gospel a total of four times.
Matthew 2:9 describes the star, which led the wise men on their journey and eventually stopped above the place where the infant Jesus lay. One of the sisters had a Bible with a different translation—hers read that the star “stood still.” By praying lectio divina and repeatedly reading the same passage, we were allowing our minds, like that star, to stand still. It was a calming change of pace, especially after a busy semester and an equally busy holiday season. Stillness was a blessing.
After all, as another sister added, we can pray for peace, but it is not something external. Peace begins in our hearts.