Listening with the Ears of Your Heart

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

“Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)

We read in Genesis 17:3 that when Abram (before he was renamed Abraham) prostrated himself before the Lord, God spoke to him.  When he was in a position of humility, he was able to hear the Lord.  Our position before God really matters.  How we are before Him determines how we are able to hear Him.  And it’s not just to hear all the bad things we’re doing.  In the instance of Abraham, God is promising him generations: “I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact” (Genesis 17:7).  He didn’t even have kids yet, and he wasn’t young either!  And yet God tells him that He will make him fruitful.  God can do anything with us if we are humble.  We need to listen to God to recognize our faults, but also to hear His blessings.  God has wonderful things to say; He desires to build us up, not tear us down.  He says, “There is so much in you…so much good…and you need to hear it.”  It’s so important to be on your knees to hear the good things, because that will enable you to be fully who you are.  It only takes a twinkling of the eye for all things to change.  Be aware of how good it is to hear the whole of what God has to say.

You really can’t run away from the Spirit of God.  If He wants to tell you something, He can use any instrument He wants to get through to you.  You can try to ignore them all, but still another will show up.  So it’s better to face the truth head on and just try to listen rather than keep running.  Sometimes the word God has for us may be painful or ask more than we think we can give, but we have to be willing to trust Him that He will provide everything we need to do what is being asked of us.  Listen, listen with the ears of your heart. 

St. Benedict on Blessing

A reflection on St. Benedict’s teaching to “bless those who curse you” (Rule 4.32) by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

God looks upon us with loving kindness.  He wants to bless us.  Cursing is of the devil – it’s evil.  And sometimes Evil uses us to harm each other.  The important thing is to look beyond who is doing it and see who is influencing it.  Thankfully, God’s blessing is far more powerful than a curse.  So we hear from St. Benedict how to take care of curses: bless!  Ask God’s goodness to be poured upon the one who curses you.  Ask God to love them abundantly to the point where they are no longer able to do evil because they know how dearly loved they are.  What a wonderful remedy.  What a wonderful way to see things: to break curses with blessings.  Whenever you’re having a difficulty with someone, and you can feel your blood pressure rising, just start asking God to bless them.  It will be a challenge, but you’ll be on the right path. 

St. Benedict challenges us to good to those who maybe don’t do good to us in return.  It’s easy to love those who love you, but it’s a real test of your love when you do good to those who are difficult to love.  Good.  Do it.  Give without expectation of receiving.  Love without the expectation of being the most loved.  When you feel as though you are the least loved, and yet you try to love everybody else as if they are the most loved, that is really hard work.  Try it.  You’ll go to bed exhausted.  If you can do that, you’ve won.  Because remember that we’re going to be judged based on what we’ve done to others, and not what they’ve done to us.  And also remember those words of Jesus when He said, “Stop judging and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37), and just don’t judge anybody! 

Statue of St. Benedict by the entrance to our Abbey

Winter/Christmas Photos

Merry Christmas!

Artwork by one of our Sisters

“In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things came to be through him,

and without him nothing came to be.

What came to be

through him was life,

and this life was the light of the human race;

the light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not overcome it…

He was in the world,

and the world came to be through him,

but the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own,

but his own people did not accept him…

And the Word became flesh

and made his dwelling among us…”

–John 1:1-5, 10-11, 14

We rejoice with you on this glorious day as we celebrate the day on which God gave us the greatest gift—His very self. May you receive Him with great joy! Many blessings on you this Christmas and always.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, on how Mary shows us the way to love beyond our hurts

Sun shining on a print of Our Lady of Guadalupe hanging in our cloister hallway

The Office of Readings for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is so important.  We see how Juan Diego is called tenderly by Mary to accomplish a special mission for the Church “in words both gentle and courteous.”  That is really the speech of heaven—gentle and courteous.  We should try to remember that and take it on as well.  She calls Juan Diego to build a church so that people may “call upon and confide in me.”  That is the call of the Blessed Mother.  It’s as if she said, “Confide in me, and I will help you.  Do not be afraid to tell me the things deepest in your heart. I will bring you to God.”  That call hasn’t changed.  She is incredibly loving toward the deepest sinners, because those are the ones to whom God says, “I want you, and I’m not letting go.”  

Juan Diego approaches the bishop about building the church, but he is rejected.  The next time he needs to pass over the same hill where he met Our Lady, he tries to skirt around the place where he met her last.  What’s so beautiful is that the Blessed Mother takes no offence, she simply goes to the other side and meets him with a tender, “Juanito!”  It is so lovely how heaven lets us be people, doesn’t hold our humanity against us, but simply goes to meet us where we are.  She makes roses miraculously appear on the hilltop and asks him to cut them and bring them as a sign to the bishop to prove God’s will. She sends him forth, calling him her “ambassador, very worthy of trust.”  

I pray that she would say the same to each one of us: “You are my ambassador, very worthy of trust.”  If you hear those words, can you embrace them, and act accordingly?  When you ask a sign from heaven, not because you lack faith, but because you really want to do God’s will, receive it and shout for joy.  Embrace it as a total gift.  Our Lady truly cares.  When you confide in her and ask her help, believe me, she does not leave you alone.  And even if you should run round the hill to skirt her, she will just simply run sweetly to the other side and call you. Let us all follow the Blessed Mother’s example of meeting each other where we are, and not having unreasonable expectations for others that lead to us being impatient and frustrated.  Remember that “as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you,” (Matthew 7:2).  So let us be generous in loving one another, even when we feel disappointed or hurt.  When you decide to forgive people, you do not have to feel warm and fuzzy toward them, no, your love has to be deeper than that.  You have to make up your mind that you want what is best for them, for their healing and salvation, and that you will one day be together in heaven as the people you were created to be.  Healing from wounds is a lifetime of work, and we should try to support, not hinder, each other from this process.  St. Benedict says in his Rule to pray for the troubled brother suffering from illness of the soul… and who of us is not this brother from time to time?  We all need each other’s’ prayer and good will.  It is my hope that the next time the occasion arises for you to shut down because someone offended you, you remember Our Lady of Guadalupe and decide to run to meet the person on the other side of the hill with a kind word and a smile.

Click here to read more about the miracle of Juan Diego’s tilma

On Gaining Heaven

This November, as the Church remembers in a special way all the departed, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, reflects on what it takes to inherit the heavenly kingdom

Sunrise over our monastery

“Heaven is not a place where there is the mere vocal repetition of alleluias or the monotonous fingering of harps.  Heaven is a place where we find the fullness of all the fine things we enjoy on this earth.  Heaven is a place where we find, in their plenitude, those things which slake the thirst of hearts, satisfy the hunger of starving minds, and give rest to unrequited love.  Heaven is the communion with perfect Life, perfect Truth, and perfect Love, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be all honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen.”

Archbishop Fulton Sheen

We have probably all experienced those “thin places” in life where God peeks through and seems to say, “I’m here!”  We thank God for those moments, because they make us stop in our tracks and realize His presence.  These “thin places” are little glimpses of heaven.  I think that hell is more like a house of mirrors.  Before Adam and Eve fell, there was something like a clear crystal between them and God, and they saw Him perfectly; but then after they sinned the crystal became a mirror, and they became totally self-centered.  And that’s why we go to Confession frequently—to open up that mirror again.  They say that heaven and hell have the same banquet, but the spoons are really long, so in hell everyone is trying to feed himself and misses his mouth, while those in heaven get to enjoy the feast because they are feeding each other.

When we die and stand before God to be judged, it won’t be scary if we already know ourselves and know Him.  Do you remember those teachers in school who really tried to help you out before the exams by telling you what to watch out for?  Didn’t you love those teachers?  Well Jesus in the Gospels does the same thing for us (cf. Matthew 25:31-40).  His teaching on our judgment is also outlined in the Catechism: [God will say on that day,] “I placed my poor little ones on earth for you.  I, as their head, was seated in heaven at the right hand of my Father—but on earth my members were suffering, my members on earth were in need.  If you have anything to my members, what you gave would reach their Head” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1039).  This is a beautiful section of the Catechism because it tells us each what we need to do.  We are appointed specifically to love the little ones in our midst.  The little ones are each one of us, and we have to pay attention to what we place before and in each other, because ultimately it goes to God.  So whatever we do to one another, we’ve done to Christ.  Choose to do today what you want to do for all eternity.  If you spend your life praising God, blessing others, and loving them, that is how you will spend all eternity.  

Don’t think the Saints aren’t watching and fighting for you.  It’s never too late to turn around; all of the Saints had to.  Each Saint has been won by God, and not one of them didn’t have to struggle in life.  I bet heaven goes crazy cheering over the ones who hell thought they had.  Let God be victorious in you.

Farm Manager’s Coronavirus Perspective

March 22, 2020, was a normal Sunday at the Abbey of St. Walburga. The only difference was that we weren’t able to allow guests to come to Mass that morning, because there happened to be a global pandemic going on and everyone in the entire world (so it seems) was in “lockdown”…but for cloistered nuns, it was business as usual. After all, we have been practicing social distancing for centuries. It’s already our practice to leave our monastery as infrequently as possible, limiting our contact with the outside world; so you could say we’re experts! All joking aside, what an experience this has been. It’s as if everyone is going through a big collective “novitiate.” Like a monastic novitiate, it’s a time of trial and testing and pain; it’s a time of growth and self-discovery that can lead to deep joy. I like to think that our Abbey’s role in all of this is to witness to that possibility of joy and hope. Maybe just knowing that there are nuns out there crazy enough to freely choose this lifestyle can give others courage to get through it.    

We have a number of elderly sisters in our community, so we have had to be very cautious not to expose them. For six weeks we made do with what we had on site, never visiting a grocery store (but gratefully assisted by donations of food and paper goods from kind supporters). During that time, the role of our humble milk cow suddenly became much more important; and as one of the milkers, I experienced the satisfaction of being able to provide something we couldn’t have had otherwise. 

In the Rule, St. Benedict recommends that monks have as many necessities as possible available within the cloister “so that there is no necessity for the monks to go about outside of it” (RB 66). Making cheese has not been possible at the Abbey since we sold the modular buildings; a re-model of one of our outbuildings into a “cheese hut” seemed to meet innumerable delays. However, come March of 2020, motivation spiked to make the “cheese hut” a reality—speedily! This project was finally completed in July, and we were able to produce our first hard cheese in two years…just in time, we hope and pray, for everything to return to normal. (We regret, though, that we are not currently able to make our cheese available for sale.)

On Sunday, May 10, 2020, we were happily able to allow guests in our Church again on a limited basis, with masks and distancing in place. Without them, we were missing a part of ourselves. We hope that you, wherever you are, are finding light along your pandemic journey; know that some nuns in the middle of nowhere are praying that you do.

A practical note: if you live nearby and want to come to Sunday Mass, please call ahead as we have to reserve seating to make distancing possible.

One Body, Many Parts

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” …If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

1 Corinthians 12:17-26, abridged
Praying in our Chapel

In Chapter 60 of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict we hear the words, “…friend, for what have you come?” (Rule 60.3).  That is something we should always keep in mind.  Paul knew that his mission was not to baptize, but to preach (cf. 1 Cor. 1:17).  Baptizing is so important, but he knew that wasn’t what he was called to baptize.  He was called specifically to preach the gospel.  There were others to do the baptizing.  Even Jesus clarifies that He wasn’t on earth to do everything, but specific things.  And we have that also in the Church, where we are all called to different vocations (religious life, married life, single life, the priesthood); and there are religious orders to cover every area of service—those to help the poor, those who care for the sick, teachers, missionaries—you name it, the Church has it.  And we as Benedictines are called to seek God continually, as the face of the Church running after Him.  Our part is to seek Christ sincerely, with a great deal of love, calling out to Him, “Stay with us!” on behalf of the Church.  There are specific things we are each called to do—what a gift that the Benedictine’s is to seek God.  We give thanks that there are other people doing their parts to make up for what we lack.  Through our lives of prayer, we are included in their works, because we are all part of the same Body of Christ, His Church.

Integrity and Intentions

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

We hear in the parable of the good and wicked servants that the unfaithful one served the master until the master was gone, and then he turned to beating his fellow servants and eating and drinking with drunkards (cf. Matt. 24:46-51).  I think that this servant must not have been serving with love, or with good intentions, but had the mentality of, “As long as he’s here, I’ll be good.  Wait until he’s gone and I can handle everything differently.” 

Our intentions mean so much, and that’s why we should stay far away from judging others, because we don’t know their intentions.  Leave that to God.  Sometimes we mean the very best, but everything possible goes wrong and it turns out to be a disaster.  These things just happen, but we can have confidence in the fact that God knows the secrets of our hearts.  He knows what our intentions are.  So even if we were to do things outwardly very well, but without good intentions, God knows that too. We hear in the Rule of St. Benedict, “If a disciple obeys grudgingly and grumbles not only aloud, but also in his heart, then even though he carries out the order, his actions will not be accepted with favor by God, who sees that he is grumbling in his heart” (5.17-18).  So that is something we can always work on: the purity of our hearts, and the purification of our intentions.

There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops… Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins?  Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.

Luke 12:2-7, abridged
Watercolor by one of our Sisters

Fall Foliage

The blowing wind, the mild, moist air, the exquisite greening of trees and grasses – In their beginning, in their ending, they give God their praise.

–Saint Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179)
Despite looming smoke from the nearby fires, it is still a beautiful fall at the Abbey of St. Walburga