The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 28, 2001 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Love will overcome hatred

Terrorists brought down buildings and ended life; here, we raise a building to praise God's life

By Bishop Robert Banks

A month ago, I made an appointment to visit the construction site of the new monastery being built by the Carmelite Sisters near Denmark. The actual visit took place last Tuesday, one week after the horrible happenings in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

That Tuesday also marked one week of watching on TV what remained of the two towers of the World Trade Center, towers reduced to rubble by the madness of violent men. And who could look at that rubble without thinking of the thousands of innocent victims buried there and the thousands of homes where children and adults waited for their missing loved ones?

Dark side

All that destruction and violence is depressing. It is a symbol and a reminder of the very dark side of human nature. When we humans give in to anger and hatred, there is literally no limit to the cruelty and violence of which we are capable. We see that, on a small scale, almost every evening when we watch the local TV news with its inevitable lead story of murder or some other crime.

On Sept. 11th, we saw terrorists set new records for viciousness, and we now realize that, with modern technology, the evil ones among us can do even worse -- and always for what the terrorists think is a worthy cause. Their blindness is even more frightening than their hatred.

So it was a ray of light to visit the construction site of the new monastery. Here faith and love are building something beautiful. It is far from finished, so please do not try to visit the site. You will be covered with dust or buried in mud. Besides, I don't think you are allowed onto the site while construction is going on. Next spring, you will be able to see the finished product.

I was refreshed by the visit because the Carmelite nuns -- with the help of their friends from this area and beyond -- are not building a shelter for themselves as much as they are lifting up a work of art that will speak of the beauty and love of God to them, to us and to future generations

As I picked my way carefully around the puddles and piles of construction materials, I would have missed all that if Mother Mary Elizabeth, the prioress, had not been there to explain how almost every stone and brick had a message.

The theme of the monastery is the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor. Most of us remember that story from hearing it at Mass every year. Peter, upon seeing Jesus transfigured, blurted out, "Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."

Needless to say, they didn't do that, but the Sisters have topped the new monastery with three tent-like steeples. The main one, the highest, is directly over the chapel and the altar where Jesus will be present in the celebration of the Eucharist.

Inside the monastery, almost every wall leads in some way to the chapel and will be marked with reminders of Jesus' life on earth. Even a detail like the number of steps leading to the chapel has significance -- six to mark the six days of creation, with the seventh day, the Sabbath, at the level of the chapel floor. And great care is taken so that there will be a simple beauty to every detail. The countryside will know that when it hears the monastery bells ring out, with perfect tones, the hours of the liturgy.

To speak of God

As for the cells where the Sisters will sleep or the common rooms where they will gather for meals and the like, the only thing that speaks of comfort is that they all have windows that look over the beautiful Wisconsin countryside. The Sisters are not building for comfort; their monastery is intended to speak of God to them, their successors and the world for at least the next three centuries.

Something for God

The Sisters have managed to convey to the architect, contractor and workers that they are all involved in building something sacred, something for God. Word spread quickly around the building trades in Green Bay about the pep talk Mother Mary Elizabeth had given the superintendents and the workers at the beginning of the job. She explained that they were privileged to be putting up a building for God. That meant no improper language by anyone while working there, but more importantly, that their best efforts had to go into this very special building.

The message took. There is no question that those involved in the construction of the monastery consider it to be a very special job, not only because of what the building will be, but because of the care that is going into making it a work of beauty for the ages.

While Mother Mary Elizabeth and the Sisters should get all the credit for the ideas and the spirit that make this new monastery so special, they obviously couldn't lay one brick without the help of very generous friends here and elsewhere. Those who are making the monastery financially possible are just as dedicated as the Sisters to putting up a building that will speak clearly about God and God's love.

Even empty buildings

Buildings can speak of God's love, even when no one uses them. I think of ancient, tumbled down monasteries in Ireland. But it is even better when there is a worshipping community within them. We in the Diocese of Green Bay will be blessed to have a community of women dedicated to contemplation making the new monastery a place of prayer.

So I walked away from the construction site, trying to brush my clothes clean of the dust and mud, but feeling a lot better to see working men, contemplative sisters, and generous donors putting up together a work of love. One more proof that love is so much better than hate -- and it will overcome.

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