Thursday, September 8, 2016

On the Birthday of Mary

On September 8, 2016, as we celebrated the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we also welcomed yet another novice into our community, Sr. Hillary Kunz.  Below is an excerpt from the reflection Mother Maria Michael gave to our community the evening before Sr. Hillary's clothing.

Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of the Blessed Mother.  She plays an extraordinary part in God’s plan of redemption.  We celebrate her birth into time, into life, the life of the world which God created and said, “It is very good.”  In her life too, prophecies will be fulfilled, “the sword shall pierce your own heart.” And also, “He has looked on his servant in her lowliness, henceforth all ages will call me blessed.”  And there are many more.  All of these are held in the child Mary, fresh from her Mother’s womb.  Little did anyone realize the moment she was born, the impact this little girl would have on the world, would have on humanity.
Tomorrow there will be another birth…  Hillary you will be born anew because you are leaving behind the world you knew well, that you were comfortable with.  And yet you have been called out of the world in order, like Mary, as it says in the liturgy, “Let us celebrate with devotion the birth of Mary, the ever Virgin Mother of God whose splendid life has illumined the Church.”  We are called in our lives to illumine the Church.  We are called to be lanterns, we are called to be God’s light in the world.  It cannot happen unless we are born anew.  And so tomorrow, Hillary will be stripped, in a sense, of her own clothing and will be given the habit of our community.  She is going to profess her desire to be a part of this community, to be one lamp with us all and that will require being born again. 
Hillary, you are going to be learning everything anew from a whole different perspective.  It’s one in which you are seriously stepping into this life.  You are stepping in to be grounded.  You are stepping in to listen more clearly to the Word of God.  Because that Word is already in you and it now will take form in the life totally dedicated to Christ.  A novice begins to see things anew, more seriously the things you have sensed God is calling you to, you now grasp.  The things you have lived you now embrace because you’re looking at a life that is stable until you pass into eternity. That is what you are being called to.  And we rejoice with you.
Sr. Hillary on her clothing day.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Gift of the Religious Habit: Another New Novice

Our community welcomed our second new novice of the year on April 17, 2016, the Feast of the Good Shepherd.  Sr. Brandi-Lynn McWhorter was clothed in the Benedictine habit during our Lauds prayer service.  Below is a reflection given by Mother Maria-Michael for the occasion of her clothing.

In the prayer for the blessing of the Habit we hear, “O God, in Your fidelity You promise us eternal goods and You always fulfill your promises, we ask you to bless this religious habit by which your handmaid who will wear it desires to express her readiness to serve you with undivided devotion.”  

The key is desire.  When  a novice receives the habit, she is questioned, “What do you ask?” In asking this, the abbess is also asking, what is your desire in prostrating yourself before the altar of the Lord?  What is your desire as you hold out your hands to receive what isn’t yours?  Every morning when we arise and put on the habit – we have to remember that it was through desire that we answered those questions.  

The novice is also asked, “Are you willing to seek God in this community and test [and I mean test!] your vocation to the monastic life?”  This is the time of testing – much will be expected of you.  In Chapter 58 of the Rule of St Benedict, on the reception of brothers into the monastery, it says, “Let a senior who has the ability to win over souls be appointed to watch over him merrily and carefully, to discover whether he truly seeks God and is eager for the Work of God, for obedience and for obtaining humility.”  The rigor and austerity that we use in our journey to God should be laid before him.  It isn’t an easy life.  The only way to live it is to live it fully – with desire.  

Sr. Brandi-Lynn receives the scapular
A novice is taken through the valley of Humility.  It is rich, beautiful and mortifying.  It is a tough place to be but it is the richest.  There will be the cliffs of Obedience.  There are going to be cliff-hangers but those are ones that will climb to the heights.  There are the silent streams that flow strong and to drink one must be silent.  We take times of silence to drink deeply of Christ.  That relationship is the only thing that ties us strongly to the monastic life.  Know the voice of the Good Shepherd.  Know it well.  You must be able to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd because so often when we pray and ask God to speak to us, He speaks through our superiors.   We have to be able to recognize His voice speaking to us through our Abbess.

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.  No one can take them out of my hand.  My father who has given them to me, is greater than all and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.”  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

New Novice Preparing for the Wedding Feast

On February 2, 2016, the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, we welcomed a new novice into our community.  Sr. Catherine-Marie Carlin , having completed her first year of probation at our Abbey was clothed in the Benedictine habit during our Lauds prayer service.  Below is a reflection given by Mother Maria Michael on the occasion of her clothing.

On the Feast of the Presentation, Christ is brought to the temple for his consecration.  Two young doves are brought as a sacrifice.  Every life that is consecrated to God requires sacrifice.  One of the greatest sacrifices we can give is our love.  For one who is celibate, the love that we receive from others is not to be taken for ourselves.  The love we receive is for Christ.  Everything that comes to us belongs to Him.   We give Him everything.
Catherine Marie prostrates before the altar as the community sings
the Veni Sancte Spiritu.
It is fitting that on a clothing day, we will sing the antiphon that says, “Sion, prepare your wedding chamber to receive Christ the King.”  The novitiate is a time of probation, of preparation, for a wedding that is everlasting.   The postulant will be presented with the question, “What do you ask?”  We all must remember that we asked to be a part of this community.  We asked to wear the habit of the Abbey of St. Walburga.  We asked to be stripped of ourselves.  

St. Benedict says it so simply, “Let him therefore presently, in the oratory, be stripped of his own garments and be clothed in those of the monastery.”  What does it mean?  It means to be stripped of everything that speaks of our self.   We strip ourselves of ourselves in order to find ourselves in the center of Christ.  The habit expresses the desire and readiness of the religious to serve her King with undivided devotion.  When someone sees the habit there is no question of who you belong to.

Catherine Marie receives the habit from Mother Maria-Michael
The belt of the habit is put on the novice, she does not put it on herself.  It is to remind her of the chains of Jesus Christ.  How many times will we be in a situation we are not in control of?  It is like a chain which can hurt-- but it only hurts our pride.  It is also called the cincture of obedience because it holds together our desire to belong to Him.  Without obedience our desire will mean nothing.
The veil is a sign of religious state where one is blessed, spotless, holy, and to be recognized as consecrated to God.  How important it is for us to live with that recognition – we are consecrated to God, set aside from society for Him.  We have to be faithful to that recognition.  

At the end of the clothing ceremony, I will say this prayer: “O God you called us to turn away from the vanities of the world, its desires, cares and ambitions.”  This is not a life of ambition.  This is a life in which we are called to holiness; and it is a labor of love.
Sr. Catherine Marie with Mother Maria Michael.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Power of the O Antiphons

A reflection for the beginning of the O Antiphons by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB.

Today we begin the great O Antiphons and we should be excited!  They have a history in the
monastic life that is profound.  They have been sung for centuries.  We’re doing something ever ancient and ever new.  For every age they will mean something different.  And we must look deeply for this meaning because it is bestowed each time we sing them.  We cry out to heaven once again: “Maranatha!  Come!  Come O Wisdom from on high!” 
O Antiphons (in Latin).  Calligraphy by the nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga.
We have put the O Antiphons on our Christmas card* this year because THAT is what came, That is what took flesh.  God Himself came in all of those titles.  They’re powerful.  We should stand in awe before each one.  Each one should stop us in our tracks.
Today we have, “O Widsom of our God most high, guiding creation with power and love, come to teach us the path of knowledge.”  True knowledge.  True wisdom.  Having wisdom enables us to do everything through the eyes of heaven.  And who is heaven but Christ?  There’s a popular adage right now, “Do what Jesus would do”.  That is exactly what we should be aiming for.  That is exactly right.  We should weigh our decisions on eternity.
 In chapter four of the Rule of St. Benedict says, “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way, the love of Christ must come before all else.”  When we live that way we proclaim where we’re headed.  Our way MUST be different from that of the world.  We must value the things of heaven.  God says “Take care, first, of the things of heaven.  I’ll take care of the things of earth.  I’m the creator of ALL.”  If we live that way, we will die that way: with our eyes on eternity, on Jesus.  He is the one and the only one who will care for us.  He is the only one who will love us and love our souls to the fullest measure.  Nothing can reach the depth of the love that Christ’s love can reach.  Nothing.  Therefore we yearn for Him.  That’s why we’re attentive to the soul. We want it to be filled.  We go each day to pray the prayers of the Church, that we may be filled and walk according to the law of God, not of the world.  And today it’s going to take more to walk the ways of God.  They are not as appreciated or valued as they once were. But if one touches God, one can help but to strive to love God.  So much of our world isn’t involved enough with God and there’s emptiness. 
  So strive for the Wisdom of God.  Ask God for the Wisdom of Heaven.  It will be different from the way of the world and it should be.  Have you not chosen a way different?  Hang on to it. Embrace it and do not let it go. 

We will see the face of Him whom we long for.  What we read, we will see in the flesh.  As we begin these days, embrace them.  Get excited about them within.  Pray them with delight.  Pay attention to what you are singing, because it has the touch of eternity.

*The front of Christmas card for the nuns this year has the O Antiphons written in calligraphy.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Love Covers a Multitude of Sin

Reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

In the month of November, we remember the souls in purgatory and we remember the words of St. Benedict exhorting us to pray with “tears of compunction”, which are necessary in order to have that purity of heart required in this life.  This purity of heart not only aids our own souls but those of others – and for the souls of the departed.  Our prayers and tears of compunction help those souls that are still in need of some purification.  One of the most powerful things we can do for another soul – especially for one who is close to death – is to ask for their forgiveness.  This reconciliation will lift an immense weight and allow peace to permeate the soul, both theirs and ours. 

I read recently that after reading the Gospel the priest or deacon whispers quietly, after kissing the book, “Through the words of the Gospel, may our sins be wiped away.”  How powerful.  The Gospel should call us to repentance, call us to examine how we are living.  The Good Thief understood this:

“One of the criminals on the cross began to shout insults at Jesus, ‘Aren’t you the Christ?  Then save yourself and us!’  But the other criminal stopped him and said, ‘You should fear God.  You are getting the same punishment he is.  We are punished justly, getting what we deserve for what we did.  But this man has done nothing wrong.’  Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’  Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you the truth.  Today, you will be with me in paradise.’”

What a promise.  Why did he receive this promise?   Because he accepted his crucifixion because he knew it was just.  He acknowledged his sinfulness before God; therefore, he was forgiven and received a treasure beyond expectation.

What would our treasure be if we all had the attitude of the Good Thief?  When a difficult or trying situation is handed to us, do we willingly accept it as reparation for our sins and those of others, or do we run and hide?  St. Paul says that “love covers a multitude of sin” because love is accepting, love doesn’t flee, love bears all things for the sake of Him who loves us.  God sent His only Son to die out of love for us.  How much more should we give ourselves out of love for God and for our brothers and sisters?  The most important thing we can do – for our souls and for those of others – is to safeguard love. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Reflecting on Monastic Life this Fall

A reflection by Mother Maria- Michael Newe, OSB.

Fall is such a reviving and reflective time of year.  It is also a time to look at our own monastic life to reflect on the fruits it may – or may not – be bearing in t
he community.  We reap the harvest of our life just as we reap the harvest each fall for our winter storage of food.

In The Way of Life, Abbot Dom Gabriel Braso writes:
“We touch here on what is, perhaps, the most serious and delicate problem for Abbots and Abbesses, to know how to maintain the firmness and clarity of principles without falling into an intransigent and inhuman concern for perfection.  To know how to remain understanding, discrete and liberal, while neither letting go of the tiller nor opening the monastery doors to laxity.  In chapter 64, St. Benedict seeks to give the Abbot rightful measure of this prudent equilibrium: ‘He must hate faults but love the brothers.’  [St. Benedict] tries to explain further what it means, ‘ By this we do not mean that he should allow faults to flourish but rather he should prune them away with prudence and love as he sees best for each individual.’”

It is important for people to hear of the concerns of an Abbot or Abbess.  We really do care about how the life is lived without breaking the monks, without causing the monks to be stripped so they have no movement, and yet without letting them be so liberal that they forget where the lines of the Rule are.

It is also important to remember that we do not hate anybody.  Every person is a child of God.  Every one bears the image of Christ.  But the Abbess needs to help those under her to recognize where they need to bear His image more, where have they have lost that image in their lives.  She also needs to remind them of the virtues of a monk.  What makes a monk different?  What makes us pursue the life we are living?  Are we looking for perfection or a place to nest and be comfortable?  Do we only do just enough to make it work?  I don’t think that is what St. Benedict would have wanted.  His way is a simply seeking the right way, the way of Christ, within the view of the Rule.

It is good for us here at the Abbey to examine how we live the Rule here in our community.  Could a guest walk in and say, “My goodness, they really are Benedictines to the core.  I walk these halls and I breathe the air of Benedictines.  I go the choir and am astounded at their reverence and love.  They all are one body singing for Christ.”  We need to ask ourselves: Do we serve one another as Christ?  Do we keep the tools and goods of the monastery as we would the sacred vessels of the altar?  Do we clean house so that Christ can be present in it?  This should be our reflection for the fall, not as a criticism or a shaking-a-finger at somebody, but as an act of love for the monastic life and for the community.   By doing this, we can better urge one another on to become an authentic alter- Christi.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Suffer Willingly, Love Fully

Reflection on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

It's a blessing to celebrate the Triumph of the Cross because it immerses us, once again, in the holiest days of the year – the Triduum.  In our daily lives, it is easy to get caught up in what needs to be done; this feast is a reminder to sit with the message of the Triduum. 

Saint John Paul the Great knew suffering intimately.  In his apostolic letter on human suffering, he says,
“The Cross of Christ throws salvific light in a most penetrating way on man’s life and, in particular, on his suffering.  For through faith, the Cross reaches man together with the Resurrection.  The mystery of the Passion is contained in the Paschal Mystery.  The witnesses of Christ’s Passion are, at the same time, witnesses of His Resurrection.  St. Paul writes, ‘That I may know Him, Christ, and the power of His Resurrection and may share His sufferings becoming like Him in His death that if possible I may obtain resurrection from the dead.’”
In our own lives, we can learn to value suffering because it strengthens us.  The conviction we need to have in order to suffer gracefully is a conviction of love:  you only suffer willingly when you love fully.  Christ loved fully and He suffered willingly out of that love.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Power of a Blessing

A reflection on Genesis 32: 23-33 by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

In this passage from Genesis we see Jacob battling, wrestling with an Angel.  We read in Genesis, “After he had taken them across the stream and had brought over all his possessions, Jacob was left there alone.”   

There he was - alone.  Everything he had was on the other side.  The full story is that Jacob was returning home and was afraid of his brother, Esau.  He wasn’t sure if he was going to be killed!  He had sent thousands of gifts to Esau just to appease him.  So we don’t know everything that was happening or all that was said or felt, but Jacob understood that “the man” was something divine. 

After they had been wrestling for some time, the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”  But what does Jacob say?  “I will not let you go until you bless me.”  He knew the power of a blessing.  He wasn’t going to let it go until he got it.  He suffered for it, too.  He was knocked in the hip and had to walk with a limp; but he was willing to fight that hard to get it.

I don’t know if, today, we take seriously the blessing that we get from God.  Or that we understand how powerful it is when we get the priest’s blessing.  When we get our parents blessing.  When we bless one another.  To know what that means!  To believe in the power of a blessing – do we take it in strongly enough that it can bear fruit?  Do we ask God to bless us?  Jacob knew the power and he wasn’t going to let it go.  He tangled with Heaven and won.  “I will not let you go until you bless me."  

Ask God for His blessing.  Take seriously the blessings we get.  Let them bear fruit within and give blessings!  Bless one another with a prayer, ask for a blessing and see how it bears fruit.