Sisterhood and Brotherhood: An Interview with Sr. Marjorie Robinson, OCD

It’s been over a year now since the term Covid-19 first entered our vocabularies. So many of our brothers and sisters have been lost. Many more have lost loved ones.

As New Yorkers and as human beings, we need a break. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t seem likely to give us one anytime soon. In a few months, vaccines may bring us relief from the pandemic. But then there’s the economy and all its lingering effects. No TV show, video game or exercise routine will make this go away.

What can help is prayer. That’s why Archways has instituted this series, Prayer Prompts, in which we talk to the experts, the Jedi masters, the Black Belts of prayer – the contemplative nuns of our archdiocese – to help us learn to pray for ourselves, our neighbors and our world.

For the first in the series, we posed some questions to Sr. Marjorie Robinson, OCD, a Discalced Carmelite at the Carmel of the Incarnation Monastery in Beacon, New York.

Archways: As we prepare for 2021, what are you praying for?

Sr. Marjorie Robinson, OCD: Events during this past year have shed light on the inequalities in our nation. We are praying

  • that what we have learned in the past year will result in a greater appreciation of ourselves as one human family.
  • that we experience and celebrate our diversity as a gift of God
  • that the barriers that divide us will begin to crumble so that we accept and respect one another as equals, created and loved by God.
  • that we have the desire and courage to confront the many forms of fear, injustice and violence that plague our world.

I pray that the effects of the pandemic, as well as the unrest, political turmoil, unemployment, fear, confusion and violence we have known, will be overcome by forces of hope and growth, equality and solidarity, respect and acceptance of all peoples.

Archways: Please suggest some prayers, readings or scripture passages to read and meditate on at this time.

Sr. Marjorie Robinson, OCD: I can offer four broad suggestions.

First, our Carmelite charism nourishes my spirit and reminds me that God is with us in times of darkness and doubt as much as in times of light and surety. When I find myself bombarded by doubt, confusion, anger and despair—such as I’ve often felt this year—I know that waiting in faith and trusting in God’s mercy and love will ultimately overcome the darkness. This quote from St. John of the Cross is a gem for me, especially when I grapple with life’s questions and doubts:

In giving us His Son, His only Word (for He possesses no other), God spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word—and God has no more to say.

Second, the daily and Sunday scripture readings from Mass, as well as the psalms and readings of the Divine Office, are daily bread for my spirit. To linger with favorite scripture passages, pondering God’s word, expands one’s vision, heart, and mind, creating a space for others. 

Third, I have recently been reading Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti, (Brothers and Sisters All). In the first chapter, he points out, “Local conflicts and disregard for common good are exploited by the global economy in order to impose a single cultural model. This culture unifies the world but divides persons and nations.” He then quotes Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate. “… As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors, but does not make us brothers [and sisters].”

This passage has been a source of enlightenment and challenge to me, setting me on a path I feel called to pursue. The journey from neighbors to sisters and brothers requires work and conscious effort. I have witnessed such efforts this year in acts of selflessness and kindness, in the dedication of those who put the common good before their own needs and wants. Small acts of kindness and generosity, one act at a time, create a climate of sisterhood and brotherhood.

Fourth,I learn from others—through others’ example, through the relationships I cherish. I have found helpful during this time music, poetry, storytelling, movies, books, Zoom opportunities, letter writing, discussions with friends and with others seeking a more just, equal, peaceful world.

Archways: What themes are guiding your prayers at this time?  

Sr. Marjorie Robinson, OCD: Particular themes I am thinking about are:

PATIENCE  The world will not change overnight just because we have all been through a pandemic. I remind myself that change comes slowly, one person at a time, through small, conscious acts of goodness and selflessness.

HOPE  I encourage a sense of hope by my belief that goodness, truth, openness, love and the common good are stronger than the forces that seek to divide and confuse. 

FAITH I do not let myself be overwhelmed by images of violence and disregard for the common good and for the most vulnerable and neglected. I maintain my belief that God wills everything for our good.

COMMON GOOD  I seek to stress our unity as a human family in our diversity and the importance of acceptance and respect for others. We are called to sisterhood and brotherhood.

DIVERSITY  I celebrate the rich diversity of the human family. Our healthy diversity is not divisive. It makes us appreciate all of God’s creation.

PEACE  We are all called to be peacemakers. As we have been reminded, there can be no peace without justice. Therefore, my acceptance, respect, openness and love for others are challenges I must take seriously if I want to be a peacemaker.