I want to share with you just a few out of the many graces with which the Lord has blessed us, out here in the land of fire and ice and Vikings and glaciers and wind and snow…
Syngið og gleðjist þér meyjar Krists, hann er brúðgrumi yðar.
“Sing for joy virgins of Christ, for He is your spouse”.
On Saturday September 15th, by the grace of God, I renewed my vows for three years, in preparation for professing the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and Marian slavery for all of eternity.
It was a feast just like every other feast in which I participated in the United States…but this time, in Stykkishólmur, Iceland!
What does it mean to prepare for the feast of renewal of vows in Stykkishólmur, Iceland?
First you need a priest to celebrate the Holy Mass and three other sisters to be witnesses. Our IVE priests and sisters came from Hafnafjörður, the town that is next to our capital, Reykjavík . They joined us on Friday evening in order to celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross.
Now we have the priests and sisters ready… next you have to invite the people. Mother made little invitations and we began inviting all of our parishioners, families of the oratory, and friends. It was really funny when I tried to invite people if I didn´t have the printed invitation…because I had to explain what was going on in Icelandic and I really had no clue. So with my VERY limited vocabulary I said something like this “I will be…at church…no above church…no around church…no in church…and I will say that I want to…be nun…for three years…and after three years…I will do again…and say for always.” I didn´t know the words for poverty (now I do, it is fátækt), chastity, obedience or even vows, so it was always a challenge to invite the people, but eventually they understood.
Then you have to decide in what language to renew the vows. I chose Icelandic! You might ask, but how can you renew your vows in Icelandic if you don´t know the words for poverty, chastity and obedience? The answer is that I can recognize, understand and pronounce the words, but I can´t remember if I´m not looking at them and then I wouldn´t even know how to put the word that I don´t remember into the right declension and so forth…So I went to the house of our one full-blooded Icelandic Catholic family in the town (I think maybe in the entire peninsula) and practiced reading the vows aloud with Guðrun, and her husband Gunnar said that he could understand me. And that was the goal, that the Icelandic would be able to understand when I professed the vows.
On Friday, after I practiced with Guðrun, she took me to our little grocery store where she has been buying the flowers every week for the chapel. Instead of buying the normal one or two bunches, she bought six! When the young man at the cash register laughed and asked why she bought so many, Guðrun explained that tomorrow was a very important day!
Ok so everything is ready for the Mass… the priests, the sisters, the people, the vows, and the flowers. We also needed to prepare for the feast afterwards!
The first thing a feast needs is food – good food. We found out that the Polish really like shepherd´s pie, and many of our parishioners are Polish, so we made shepherd´s pie. We were expecting about 25 people, so we didn´t have to make too much. The town baker, Arnar, baked and decorated a beautiful cake. We used the room that we use for Oratory during the year. The Franciscan sisters from before who built the convent and hospital not only worked in the hospital, but also ran a kindergarten. So we used one of the rooms from the old kindergarten for our feast.
After the place and food, you need decorations. One of our traditions is to make a banner with an appropriate phrase which conveys the motive for the feast. My favorite was always the one the sisters used for our first vows from an antiphon from the Common of Virgins “Sing for joy virgins of Christ, for he is your spouse”. So Mother looked in her digitalized translation of the Icelandic Liturgy of the Hours and we used it! On Friday, before the priests and sisters arrived, I was trying to finish the banner and set up the room elegantly, and didn´t know if I was going to be able to finish in time. Just then, four girls from Oratory showed up just to visit us, so we put them to work! We put the tables in order, with nicely ironed tablecloths, and the girls chose how to do the silverware and even helped me to put the cut-out letters in order for the banner. Thanks be to God! As one of the little girls was contentedly putting the silverware in order, she told me that she really likes to be here with us.
Lastly, an IVE Religious Family feast always has a fogón. So we invited some of the girls from oratory to come practice with us during the week and we sang some songs in Icelandic. They even brought their instruments…one played the guitar, one the flute, and the other brought a little piano. Fr. Booth, the English Dominican who is the chaplain of our chapel here in Stykkishólmur wrote a poem especially for this occasion and recited it for us. We sang a song from Argentina and ended, as always, with a song to Our Lady.
It was a lovely feast. Father preached a beautiful homily about the necessity and end of the Religious Life. All were pleased to have participated in the Holy Mass and for most it was the first time being present for the renewal of vows. The feast after Mass was a tangible expression of this joy. Infinite thanks be to God for the great grace to be a missionary and for the vocation to be a religious in this Religious Family! ¡Viva la misión!
In Jesus and Mary,