Monday, August 24, 2015

Willing to be Stretched

A reflection on the Feast of St. Laurence by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

On the Feast of St. Laurence, we should take a good look at the liturgy and reflect how we are all called – especially in the life of a monk – to be prepared for martyrdom.  For some, martyrdom comes as a final blow while for others it is a lifetime of suffering.  Every monk is a white martyr, because the Rule itself requires a dying - a constant dying to oneself.
In the chapter of the Rule on humility, the steps of the martyrdom of a monk are apparent: how we are to die to ourselves.  It is in the great role of service to others, putting aside our own needs and wants, to accept the humanity of one another that we die to ourselves.  We are not angels!  We may try but we are still human.  We cannot help but to fail here and there; and others will fail us here and there.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t holiness.  The holiness comes in the response.  What is the response we have in those situations?
They say that when Christ was put onto the Cross He didn’t quite fit.  So they had to pull His arms and legs, dislocate his shoulders, to nail Him so that He would stay in place.  Sometimes we think that we don’t quite fit; that doesn’t mean we don’t have the vocation.  It means we have to be willing to be stretched.  We have to be willing to be conformed to Christ in His most beautiful moments: the Agony in the Garden, changing His family to His disciples.  It must have hurt Him to pull away from His Mother – it must have cost Him.  So, too, it will cost us.
St. Benedict says,
“Accordingly brothers and sisters, if we want to reach the highest summit of humility, if we desire to attain speedily the exaltation in heaven to which we climb by the humility of this present life, then by our ascending actions we must set up that ladder on which Jacob, in a dream, saw angels descending and ascending.  Without doubt, this descent and ascent can only signify that we descend by exaltation and ascent by humility.”
What is most humbling in our own lives?  Sometimes it is simply to be the servant of others.  No matter where we stand in life, not counting our rank or position, but preferring to be the servant of others.  You want to be holy?  Simply have a mind of being a servant.

The Cellarer, it says in the Rule, when goods are not available, is to offer a kind word because “a kind word is better than the best of gifts”.  Do you know how true this is?  Do you know what it costs not to give a word that hurts when you've been hurt?  Not to be snide but to be loving at all times?  To be encouraging when someone gets what you want?  That takes martyrdom.  It takes martyrdom to be a servant even when others think and treat you as such.  Be glad and rejoice that your reward may be great in heaven, for Christ did it before all of us and He lived it to the full.  That is how we obtain holiness – the holiness that God has chosen for us.  It is in the life of Christ - Who died the servant of man.   He let Himself be stretched beyond what He could physically do.  We are not asked to do that, but we can come close if we simply become a servant to all, if we can keep silence when something hurts, if we can love those who don’t seem to love us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Persuade the Heart of Christ

A reflection on Matthew 15: 21-28 by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB
Through the scriptures we see that the power of women is their persuasion.  Think of all the instances throughout scripture that tell us of the persuasion – both good and bad – of women.  Eve did not persuade Adam to be good!
Why are women religious so valuable to the Church?  It is the prayer of persuasion.  Intercessory prayer is truly the prayer of persuasion.  We see it in the Gospel with the Canaanite woman; she persuades Christ himself to do what he did not intend to do.  It was her words of confidence – nothing was going to put her off – because she was praying for her daughter, whom she loved.  When we pray with that same tenacity, and God hears our conversation, what could not be granted us?  We have the power to pray with Mary, that the world be converted and returned to the hands of God.  Why do you think evil fights the contemplative life?  It has the power to persuade God to save His people. 
We have the power of prayer that is mighty.  When we go to prayer, when we pray together, we have the power to persuade God.  Speak that way!  Let our conversations reflect this.  When we speak confidently to God, we walk in the trail of Mary and honor our vocation as persuaders of God.  That is true intercessory prayer; and no prayer is small.  The greater the trust, the greater the answer.  Believe it in your heart and you will see your own persuasion over the Heart of Christ.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

No Greater Service

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

It seems to me that people who pursue God faithfully have their priorities straight.  Consider St. Paul: his priorities are quite straight.  For him, it is always Christ.  He does everything to serve the people.  

Now being wayward people we are always fluctuating.  We will have some days when we are more fervent than others.  We will have times during which we may not be as Christian as we want to be.  But God always sends someone our way to encourage us; He believes in us.  There is nothing God wants more than to encourage us in the ways that we will fulfill, most perfectly, the image of Christ within us.  We should strive for that at all times, but don’t be surprised when things don’t go perfectly.  That is the lot of man.

In our constant pursuit of this image of Christ within, we will always be rearranging our priorities to keep God in the first place.   Prayer, too, must have its priority in our life.  All the rest will settle like the dust.  

We carry responsibilities in community in the name of God.  That means when we pursue our responsibilities we also pursue God.  When we embrace what has been given to us to serve the community, whatever it may be – sweeping the hall, doing the dishes, serving the guests, feeding the cattle, pulling weeds – we do it in the name of God.  Only God knows the value of each one.  It has nothing to do with the work itself but everything to do with the intention.  Everything done well and for the glory of God has the highest value.  Our responsibilities may change over time but we must always be growing in the way in which we do them:  from the heart.  When we fulfill our responsibilities for the love of God we will be filled with peace and joy.

At the end of his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says, “Because I do not love you?  God knows, I do.”  What a wonderful way to end everything!  “God knows, I do.”  Carry this with you in whatever you do.  Do it for love.  There is no greater service.   If we do everything out of love, we will shine with the glory of God and our priorities will be straight.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Console the Heart of Christ

A reflection for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB.

The Collect for the Feast of the Sacred Heart reads:
O God, who in the Heart of Your Son wounded by our sins, bestow on us in mercy the boundless treasure of Your Love.  Grant, we pray, that in paying Him the homage of our devotion, we may also offer worthy reparation.
You do not hear that word very often – reparation.  Yet it is a necessary word.  We do have to make reparation for sin.  The best reparation we can possibly do, in life, is simply to be truly sorry for our sins, to decide I am not going to do that anymore, then to do some small means of penance.  It doesn’t have to be grand.  The real secret to reparation is love.  To do a small thing with great love is huge.  To do a great thing without love means absolutely nothing. 
The most we can possibly do is to do all things with love.  To prefer nothing to the love of Christ (RB 4:21).  To respond with love.  If our thoughts are of love, then our actions will be of love.  It is no small thing to be devoted to the Sacred Heart of Christ.  We as brides of Christ have an even greater duty to love Him more.  To be willing to do more, to suffer more, to be willing to give the very best of ourselves with love, and not to count the cost.  That’s heroic.
Christ deserves our love.  We should do all that we can to console the Heart of Christ.  He mourns today for His Church and yet He rejoices in His Church.  There is a victory already begun and it begins with each one of us.  It begins with love, it ends with love, and it goes into eternity with love.  Love one another; that He may be one in us and we in Him.  To talk about it is really nothing; to live it is everything.  Live it... and we shall do it together.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wisdom: Seeing Through the Eyes of God

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe.

The gift of Wisdom is the highest of all gifts.  We hear in the first reading from the Second letter to the Corinthians, “If what was going to fade was glorious, how much more will what endures be glorious?”  What endures.  Wisdom is the aspect of seeing all things through the eyes of God, through the eyes of eternity.  It gives value to those things that endure.  All things are seen through the eyes of eternity.  What are the ramifications that will last?  I found in the dictionary of Biblical Theology the definition of True Wisdom: 

The revelation of true wisdom is made in a paradoxical manner.  It is not to the wise and prudent that it is accorded but to the little ones.  In order to confound the proud sages, God chose what was foolish in the eyes of the world.

It goes further to say:

In order to make it wise according to God.  For Christian wisdom is not acquired by human effort at all, but through the Father’s revelation.  In itself, it is a Divine thing, mysterious and hidden, impossible for human intelligence to fathom.  Though made manifest by the historical accomplishments of salvation, it cannot be communicated except by the Spirit of God, to those who are docile to him.

The one way to acquire wisdom is to have a listening heart.  If we want wisdom, we have to simply take time to ask God.  “Father, what should I do with this?  What will make it good for the whole?  What are the things I need in order to acquire the blessings of eternity?  What are the ramifications of these actions and will they resound with a blessing?  Will it go further than myself?”

Wisdom is, truly, seeing things through the eyes of God.  That is the only way Christ could have faced the Cross.  Seeing the ramification for eternity and the salvation necessary for all.  Otherwise you couldn’t do it.  That’s true even for our life here at the Abbey.  If we don’t see it in the eyes of eternity, how could we live it?  If we only saw it in the value for the world – it would mean nothing.  But through the eyes of God and through the eyes of what will happen for eternity, makes it perfectly sound.  And perfectly desirable.  It puts a turn on everything and children get it!  It is only when we get older and we start grasping the things of the world that we lose our childlike wisdom.  It is through the eyes of innocence and docility that we can best grasp wisdom.  So take a hold of it, pray for it, and live it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Praying as the Bride of Christ

A reflection by Mother Maria Michael Newe, OSB.

As Benedictines, our lives are hidden with Christ in God and, truly, we take on the heart of Christ in prayer.  And that is our life - we are called to pray with the heart of Christ.  We hear in the Rule of St. Benedict how we should pray the Divine Office: 
We believe that the Divine Presence is everywhere and that the eyes of the Lord behold the good and the evil in every place.  Especially, however, do we without any doubt believe this to be true when we are assisting at the work of God.
It says “assisting at the work of God”.  We are not alone when we pray.
Therefore, let us always be mindful of what the prophet says, ‘Serve the Lord with fear’ and again, ‘sing wisely’ and ‘in the sight of the Angels I will sing praise to you’.
So who are we assisting at praise?  In the sight of the Angels, I will sing praise to you.
Therefore, let us consider how we ought to conduct ourselves in the presence of God and his angels and to assist at the Divine Office that our mind may be in harmony with our voice.

What we sing we must believe.  What we believe we must live out.  We must live out the prayers we pray. 

We are the bride of Christ.  We have been born from his side.  It is said that, at the end of time, hearts will grow cold.  Let it not be said of us.  We are not called just to pray with the mind.   If Christ found no consolers, let he at least find consolers among us.   And thank him for what he’s done. 

Let us be guardians of the heart of Christ.  Let us bear his heart within.  That we may be truly one with him in mind and heart so that when we die, we have died with the heart of Christ.  So too shall we rise with his heart.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"You Are My Refuge O Lord"

On October 7, 2014, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, we welcomed two new novices into our community.  Sr. Ann and Sr. Catherine, having completed their year of postulancy, were clothed in the Benedictine habit of the Abbey of St. Walburga as a sign of their next step in religious life.  The habit symbolizes putting away the ways of the world and putting on the "new Man" who is Christ.  Sr. Ann, 22, is from Alabama and Sr. Catherine, 27, is from Victoria Island in Canada.
During the ceremony of investiture (clothing of a novice), the postulants affirm their desire to seek God in our
Mother cuts Sr. Catherine's hair.
monastery.  Mother then officially receives the postulants as novices, cuts their hair, and presents them with the habit and veil.  The new novices, holding their habits sing, "You are my refuge O Lord, all I have in the land of the living," before they step into the sacristy to put on the habit and veil.  After returning clothed in the habit, they receive the belt and scapular.  The belt is a sign of obedience and purity of heart, while the scapular is a sign of the yoke of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sr. Ann and Sr. Catherine sing "You are my refuge O Lord."

Sr. Catherine receives the belt.
Mother puts the scapular on Sr. Ann.

Sr. Ann and Sr. Catherine will be canonical novices for one year and then have another year as novices before they can be admitted to temporary vows.  May the Blessed Mother keep them faithful to their vocation during these next two years!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

God Never Fails

A reflection by Mother Maria Michael Newe, OSB.

Earlier this week, be heard in Mass the reading from 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 on love.  If God is love, then you can replace the word “God” for the word “love” in that reading and then discover who God is:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues
but do not have God,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have God, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast
but do not have God, I gain nothing.

God is patient, God is kind.
God is not jealous, God is not pompous,
God is not inflated, He is not rude,
God does not seek His own interests,
God is not quick-tempered, He does not brood over injury,
God does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
God bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

God never fails.

God never fails!  And that is His prayer for us as well, that we never fail Him.  The only way we can do that is by imitating Him.  Now I ask you:  Can you put your name in front of those sentences and be confident that it gives a good picture of who you are?  Strive to be able to put your name there so that passage can describe who you are.

Monday, May 12, 2014

In Memory of Sr. Luitgard

On May 2, 2014, our beloved Sr. Luitgard passed on into eternity at the age of 98.  Below are excerpts from the eulogy given at her funeral by Mother Maria Michael Newe.

Sr Luitgard would want us all to remember her today with great joy and to celebrate Christ’s victory in her.  Sr. Luitgard had a long span of life, though she always told me, “Oh, it’s going to be short!”  She was born August 12, 1915 in Germany, and given the name Elizabeth Kussman. 
She had the heart of a missionary.  She began her religious life with the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing, Germany.  Later, she found her way to our monastery and lived out her vows for 61 years.  Sr. Luitgard always had a heart that could say with St. Paul, “I accommodated myself to people in all kinds of different situations  so that by all possible means I might bring some to salvation.  All this I do for the sake of the Gospel that I might share its benefits with others.”  She cared immensely that souls know Christ, and she went about sharing the Gospel in any way she could.  I remember all the times she would see people and ask, “Have you had your First Communion?”; “Do you know your prayers?”; “Wait a minute I have a rosary in my room for you.”  She loved people and cared for them deeply.  Correspondence was also an integral part of her life.  It was a form of prayer for her as she expressed her love and concern for others.  We have boxes and boxes of her letters to prove it! 
Sr Luitgard as a postulant
For years, she served as a gracious and loving guest mistress.  She worked hard, cleaning, serving, welcoming, and calling people to ensure they had their yearly retreat.  Another of her greatest pleasures was gardening.  She had the greenest of green thumbs!  The greenhouse was overflowing with all kinds of containers that held plants.  She was also our seamstress and I remember going in to her to get my first habit made.  I remember how she looked when she began measuring up a person.  When she looked at you, she looked at every part of you because she wanted you to look nice in the habit.  I took that to heart.  She also loved the Divine Office and sang it with a beautiful voice.  I remember one time that she messed up in choir and she began to cry.  After the office was over I saw her go into her room and come out a short bit later beaming and happy and she said, “You know chocolate helps!”  That was a good lesson.
One of the dearest characteristics of our dear Sr. Luitgard, which encapsulated her whole life is that no one ever left Sr. Luitgard without a gift in their hands.  It was as if her dresser drawers mirrored her heart.  In them there was a secret hiding place holding something special for each person.  She never forgot anyone.  Whenever anyone would go into her room she would first direct them to the drawer that held a little gift for them.  She had a heart that ever gave.  She gave without measure.

When she died, I think she was in the most glorious garden.  I have an image of her looking all around when all of a sudden a great immense light came and she said, “Have you seen the One I’m looking for?”  Christ simply looked at her and said, “Maria Luitgard!”  And she said, “Rabboni!”  Christ didn’t tell her to let go, as He did to Magdalene, but, “Hang on, you’re mine!”

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Love Christ This Lent

A reflection on Lent given to the community of nuns by Mother Maria Michael Newe, OSB.

During Lent, as our chaplain told us, we have a joyful sorrow and a sorrowful joy.  People who are truly immersed in Christ experience even their sorrows as joy because they’ve learned to share them with Christ.  Lent is truly a call to renewal, a call to renew our relationship with Christ.  The Church always needs to be renewed, and how much more do we personally.  We want to live fervent, good lives for Christ.  Regardless of anything else that happens in life, we must pursue Him in love.  We have to love Him sincerely, because love is the only thing that makes us go forward.  It’s the only thing that ties us in difficult situations.  It’s the only thing that burns clear in our heart.  It draws us to Him who is the source of all love.
In the Rule of St. Benedict, we find the reason for our following Christ, the reason for taking up the sweet yoke.  For us,  the yoke is the Rule.  In the prologue of the Rule it says, “Hearken O my child to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of your heart.  Willingly receive and faithfully comply to the admonitions of your loving father that thou mayest return by the labor of obedience to Him from whom thou hast departed by the sloth of disobedience.”  That word sloth reminds us of the times we haven’t followed faithfully, the times we slack off and say, “Do I really have to follow the rule that closely?  Do I really have to love my sister that much?  Do I really have to obey God?”  These questions are so similar to the question the serpent asked of Eve in paradise.  They twist our view just enough to give us an inch of our own will.  Lent is a particular time to turn back to God through the labor of obedience-- and that’s obedience on every level.  Obedience to the word of God is the main thing.  Our lectio divina is one of the most important points of our life.  It is part of the Work of God for it is when He gives His word to us and we our prayer back to Him is in the Divine Office.  We pray back to Him the words He’s given us that there may be a dialogue between Heaven and Earth at all times.

Finally, let’s not forget the spontaneity of the Spirit.  That should not lack in lent.  There’s a spontaneity which calls us forth to do what is present before us, to love spontaneously, to serve spontaneously, to give spontaneously.  We all know in Lent that we are called to look deeper into our lives.  St. Benedict has in the Rule the question that we are to continuously ask ourselves: “Why did you come?”  For what reason do you live this life?  For what reason are you here?  Renew that desire to be here.  When we do that, no one can take away the joy from our hearts.  Love impels us.  Love consumes us.  We should be consumed by love.