Becoming Prayer

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

The Sisters bow in reverence during the Divine Office in the chapel. Ideally, we learn to take this reverence and apply it to honoring God in every person and every created thing.

“The clear implication is that, even in our busiest and most engrossing moments, we will never be altogether forgetful of God’s goodness. In fact, the reality of the divine presence will be a kind of constant distraction so that we will occasionally smile, without apparent cause, as people are accustomed to do when they are in love.”

Demetrius Dumm, OSB, Cherish Christ Above All

We know that St. Benedict says in the Rule that one of the signs of a vocation is if the person seeks God.  That’s such an important part of our lives—that we never stop seeking Him.  In the Psalms it says, “Look to the Lord in his Strength, constantly seek His face” (Psalm 105:4).  I think sometimes we have to remember that prayer isn’t just when we’re in the Chapel.  Prayer is being in the presence of God.  That’s something we learn to carry throughout our day.  We learn to be in His presence in the Chapel, and then we love it so much, we desire to become being in His presence.  At the end of our lives, we are to become prayer.  That is our goal: that prayer never leaves us.  As Benedictines, we don’t separate the Work of God (the prayer of the Divine Office) from the rest of our lives.  We take it and we live it continually, wherever we go, whatever we do.  We never stop being the prayer.  And I would say that is the challenge of our day.  To become prayer means that we never ever cease having God in our hearts, on our minds, and on our lips.  But that’s something you grow into.  It takes a lifetime.  I think that’s the beauty of life, that you grow into being fully who you were created to be.  Your life will be holy and beautiful if you allow God to be the center of it. 

In the same Psalm we hear, “Glory in His Holy Name! Rejoice, O hearts, that seek the Lord!” (Psalm 105:3).  There should be a spiritual joy about us.  In spite of whatever is going on, the only things that are really important are those things that are Eternal.  All the rest?  It will vanish, and it won’t mean anything.  But everything that we do that has Eternity attached to it, we need to pay attention to. 

One of the things we have to pay attention to is compassion.  You learn compassion from being with others.  That’s why being in community is so important; you learn to love even those who don’t love you.  But what a gift!  It teaches you truly to love.  Don’t count it amiss when you have trouble with others.  Don’t count it amiss when you have to work a little harder.  Count it a gift.  It will teach you to love with the love of God.  Be sorry for those who never have that chance.  It’s so important to be tried.  It is so important in the monastic life that we work hard to be better than we could ever be alone.  I’m finding that more and more, as I get older, you become more compassionate because you’ve had to struggle through many things.  You also have moments when you realize your mistakes and say, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that!”  These experiences teach us to have compassion on others who are in the same situation we were in.  In these cases, how could you not care?


Another Suscipe

On July 11, the Solemnity of Saint Benedict, our Sister Maria-Placida renewed her vows for another year. Join us in praying for her as she journeys toward Solemn Profession!

During the vow renewal ceremony, the “Suscpie” is sung by the sister before the altar. The full text of the chant is “Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam et non confundas me ab expectatione mea,” which translates, “Uphold me O Lord, as you have promised, that I may live; and disappoint me not in my hope.” Below is a beautiful word about the “Suscpie” from Esther de Waal, a contemporary author on Benedictine spirituality:

The sun shining into the Chapel as Sister Maria-Placida sings her “Suscipe”

We stand daily before God with empty hands, just like the publican. “Suscpie me, accept me O Lord as you have promised and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope.” [These words] mean more now that I have learnt that the Latin word comes from the verb sub-capere, to take underneath and so with the idea of supporting, raising, and that in Roman usage it was the word for a father taking up a new-born infant from the ground and thus recognizing it as his own…Accept me, receive me, support me, raise me up – wonderful singing words that say everything that I want to say as a prayer for myself.

Esther de Waal, Living With Contradiction

Walk with Him

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

It seems to me that God loves to meet people on a walk.  Starting in Genesis we hear that God walked with Adam and Eve through the gardens.  And we have Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  And we have Saul on the way to Damascus.  And how many other encounters there have been, we don’t know, but I’m sure there are many.  And I think they still happen today.  Enjoy your walks!  You never know if He is going to be upon you, quickly, and with a great deal of love.  But remember He also walked His Passion.  The Way of the Cross.  And He met each one: His Mother, Veronica, Simeon… Think of all those He encountered on the Way, specifically. 

We have to be able to allow God’s presence, and not pass Him by.  On the road to Emmaus, the disciples had the chance to let Jesus go, and they didn’t.  “Stay with us,” they said.  I think the excitement of every day comes from wondering, “Where am I going to meet Him?” “How am I going to meet Him?”

Jesus wants our lives to be mixed with His.  It’s like in a marriage, how over time a couple even grows to look alike, because they transform each other.  That should be true of all of us.  By the end of our lives we should be transformed.  By doing things so much like Christ we should begin to look like Him.  I wish that for everyone, and for you to have a lovely walk, encountering Him all along your way every day.

Signs of Summer

The below “photo story” highlights some of the things that make this season special at our monastery:

The sound of singing birds filling our chapel through the open windows is a sure sign that summer has arrived. This year a Red-winged Blackbird nest was found woven through the grass along the bank of one of the irrigation ditches.

Mowing, weeding, and gardening are very time-intensive during the summer months, but even more so this year since we are in the process of moving the location of the main vegetable garden to be closer to our cloister area.

Wooden crucifix in the Sisters’ Refectory
The Blessed Sacrament as seen from one of the upper loft oratories in our chapel

One of the best things about summer is the liturgical Solemnities that are celebrated, including Pentecost, the Most Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Saints Peter and Paul, Saint Benedict, and the Assumption of Mary. In honor of Corpus Christi, here is a beautiful word about the institution of the Eucharist:

Our Lord raised His hands over the apostles, His lips moved in prayer, and He then said: “Do this in commemoration of me”…

By this act Our Lord made possible for all time His stay on earth amongst men, whom He loved to such an excess. And yet He knew with His Divine foresight what that meant for Him. Though He saw that His Body and Blood would be treated with reverence by a multitude of devout souls, yet He realised full well that in many and many an instance in the course of ages He would be placing Himself at the mercy of unworthy and sinful priests who would treat Him with irreverence and sacrilege. He saw in vision all the profanations, outrages and, what was more painful still to His loving heart, the cold indifference that He was to endure…

Love, especially Divine Love, does not halt to calculate and weigh advantage and disadvantage in the balance.

Excerpts from “The Last Supper” by Edward Leen, C.S.Sp.

Loving Like Mary Magdalene

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

The story of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb is so delightful.  She is so intent on finding Jesus.  How long does it take her to notice the angels there?  But they address her with such honor, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:13).  Heaven is concerned when we are weeping.  They don’t pass it by.  They want to know why we are weeping.  They want to be a part of it.  They want to give us direction.  I wonder how many times we’ve encountered angels and didn’t know it.  It’s a beautiful thing when God breaks through our world and tries to show us the way.  And it’s always to Jesus that we are being pointed. 

Mary Magdalene’s great love for Jesus is so powerful.  She tells the guard that she’ll take His body away; do you know how much a corpse weighs?  Her love would have carried Him.  It is for us to love Him just as much.  It’s for us to care enough to keep searching for Him no matter what.  No matter what our emotions are, or whether we’re having a good day or a bad day, it is for us to continue seeking Him, and listening to what He has to say.

Jesus will call our name.  Be ready to answer.  What are you going to say?  “Teacher”?  “My Love”?  What are you going to answer when He calls your name?  And we also hear Jesus asking Mary Magdalene, “Whom are you looking for?” (John 20:15).  He’s going to be asking us that too.  What is your answer?

At the top of our Stations of the Cross

So I tell you,
her many sins have been forgiven;
hence, she has shown great love.

Luke 7:47

Paschal Candles + Exsultet Audio

Thanks to the hard work of the Sisters in our paschal candle department, parishes across the state are now burning our hand-painted candles in their churches. Sister Fidelis’ beautiful scene of the tomb on Easter morning was replicated by each artist on candles large and small, depending on what each parish ordered. Paschal candles are used during the Easter Vigil Mass to carry the flame from the Easter fire into the church, and from which every other candle in the church is lit, as a symbol of Christ the true Light enlightening the world and dispelling the darkness of evil.

A very blessed Easter season to all—He is Risen!

Abbess Mother Maria-Michael sings the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil Mass. The final part of this age-old prayer is about the Easter candle, featured in the audio clip above.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
Upon those who lived in a land of gloom
a light has shone.

Isaiah 9:1

Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him. This was the scripture passage he was reading:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,

and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,

so he opened not his mouth.

In (his) humiliation justice was denied him.

Who will tell of his posterity?

For his life is taken from the earth.”

Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, “I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him.

Acts 8:30-35

Rejoice!

A reflection on the joy celebrating Holy Week by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
            my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget her infant,
            be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
            I will never forget you.

                        -Isaiah 49: 14-15

This reading from Isaiah reminds us that we are never forgotten.  Everything is done, or allowed, for our good.  But when you think of all the sorrows of Holy Week you might say, “How in the world is this about rejoicing?”  Because Somebody has come to save us.  We could not do it on our own.  We couldn’t bear that weight.  God alone could bear the justice; and so there is rejoicing.  If Jesus were to go into a prison and say, “You are all free, because I’m going to undergo the death penalty for you,” I don’t think the prisoners would just shrug their shoulders.  There would be a real sense of freedom and gratitude.  Holy Week should bring gratitude for what He has done, and we should express that gratitude throughout each day.  I’m sure you already tell Him many times throughout the day, “I love you, Jesus,” but maybe do it a little more.  I think that’s what encouraged Him during His Passion.  I read that at one point in His agony He heard all the voices throughout time expressing gratitude.  Make sure your voice is there.  Make sure He hears how grateful you are to serve and to love Him.

Cross on the monastery property

The Trinity holds nothing back, but pours forth abundantly and completely.  We should marvel at that, because that is so unlike man.  The world teaches us to protect ourselves, and hold all our cards so nobody can take thembut the Trinity lays them all out.  Try to live at that supernatural level.  Be brave enough to not hold back.  Be brave enough to serve and to be the servant of all.  That takes true courage, because it is not the way of the world.  Climb.  Always climb, and you truly will rejoice.  When you die, you won’t be saying, “I wish I had…” You’ll be saying, “I’m so glad I did.”

Exult greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
Behold: your king is coming to you,
a just savior is he,
Humble, and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zechariah 9:9
Donkey on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage one of our Sisters made before entering the monastery

On the next day, when the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out:
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, [even] the king of Israel.”
Jesus found an ass and sat upon it, as is written:
“Fear no more, O daughter Zion;
see, your king comes, seated upon an ass’s colt.”
His disciples did not understand this at first, but when Jesus had been glorified they remembered that these things were written about him and that they had done this for him.

John 12:12-16

Annunciation Motet

On March 25, the Annunciation of the Lord, Sister Maria renewed her monastic vows for another year. Join us in praying for her, as her next step will be making her Solemn Profession next year!

During the celebration of the Eucharist on that day, some of our Sisters sang a motet called “Dixit Maria” by Hans Leo Hassler, in honor of Mary’s response to Gabriel’s message. The video features their singing, along with the tapestries hanging in our chapel woven by a nun from Abtei St. Walburg in Eichstätt, Germany:


Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

In Praise of the Virgin Mother by St. Bernard (Hom. 4, 8-9: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 [1966], 53-54)

The Monastic Vocation: Teaching the World about Humility and Obedience

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, on the Benedictine’s call to practice some of the least popular virtues in our world’s culture

Statue of St. Benedict in Norcia, Italy (his birthplace), taken before the 2016 earthquake

In Chapter 7 of his Rule, Saint Benedict tells us, “We must set up that ladder on which Jacob in a dream saw angels descending and ascending (Gen. 28:12).  Without doubt, this descent and ascent can signify only that we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility.  Now the ladder erected is our life on earth, and if we humble our hearts the Lord will raise it to heaven.  We may call our body and soul the sides of this ladder, into which our divine vocation has fitted the various steps of humility and discipline as we ascend” (Rule 7:6-9).  It says our divine vocation.  As some say, the monastic life is the life of the angels.  It’s a bit hard on us because we have original sin hanging on us, but really it is like the life of the angels in that we have the ability to be undistracted in our praise of God.  A married woman’s first duty is her husband and her family.  We have given up things and that particular love, the pleasure of a family– all of those things we have given up because of the divine call.  The divine vocation to praise God in a particular way.  We have to remember it is a divine call.  It’s not something we imagined up together and decided to do.  It cannot possibly happen without God’s grace and His call.

I want to share with you this part about what happened after Jacob’s dream: “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, ‘Truly, the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome this place is! This is nothing else but the house of God, the gateway to heaven!’” (Gen. 28:16-17).  God’s almighty power and His presence can be fearful, and we should remember who God is.  We are not His equal.  There should be some true fear of the Lord in our lives.  When you really love someone, you fear to hurt them; you fear to do something against them.  I think that is part of the fear of the Lord.  We should fear to offend Him and to live against Him.  We should fear to harm that relationship.  This fear is appropriate because we know the consequences.  This fear is the foundation of the dear virtue of humility.  Humus: we are all made of the same dirt.  There is not anybody who is made of something better – unless you’re not a human being.  There is nothing that makes us greater, except what St. Benedict says: one can be more loved because of their obedience.  This is, because of our nature, a tug of war, due to original sin.  We carry within us the desire to be like God—to have all the knowledge, to be equal with Him.  Obedience is the recognition and submission to someone being over you—to have someone over you and to have the right to ask of you great (and sometimes difficult) things, and for you to then have the duty to obey.  This is our struggle in life, and why obedience is such a great virtue.

Saint Benedict was a wise man and he loved the Lord profoundly.  His order continues to this day and it is the order that the mystics say will continue until the end of time.  I believe this is because this order teaches man about Eden: the right relationship with God, the work and the prayer, the honor of God and the honor of one another.  This is the work that we are showing to the world by our life and example—To teach them again how to communicate with God, how to love God, and how to act appropriately with our beloved Savior.  Let’s think of this today: How much are you loving God in your life?  May your goal be to love Him with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, and your whole body.