A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB
In the first year of his reign, King Cyrus issued a decree:Ezra 6:3, 7-8, 12
Let the governor and the elders of the Jews continue the work on that house of God; they are to rebuild it on its former site. I also issue this decree concerning your dealing with these elders of the Jews in the rebuilding of that house of God: Let these men be repaid for their expenses, in full and without delay from the royal revenue, deriving from the taxes of West-of-Euphrates, so that the work not be interrupted.
I, Darius, have issued this decree; let it be diligently executed.
In the book of Ezra, we hear how King Darius encouraged the building of the house of God. Would that our world had leaders that cared about God’s will, and that encouraged the things of God – I think there would be greater peace! In Chapter 2 of the Rule of St. Benedict, we hear what kind of person the Abbot should be: “Above all things, he must be careful not to take lightly the souls committed to his care, or to have more care for fleeting, worldly things than he has for them. Rather, he must always consider that he has undertaken the government of souls, for which he must give an account. And so that he will not complain out of desire for worldly things, he must remember that it is written, ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ and again, ‘nothing is lacking to those who fear him.’” Worldly leaders do have to worry about worldly things to an extent, but I wish I could send all the leaders around the world a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict, to share some insight on how God might help them out. This world belongs to God, and I wish there was more of a sense of serving Him in it. Let us pray hard for our leaders, that they will have a good sense of protecting the things of God, and that they would lead the people of the world to live on a higher plane, soaring with the eagles, rather than giving in to living as earth worms.
As religious, we also have a role to play in helping this change come about. King Darius instructed that the workers should be paid “from the royal revenue, deriving from the taxes of West-of-Euphrates,” (Ezra 6:8). Nobody likes taxes, yet I was thinking of how in the spiritual realm, the religious are the rich. We live in the house of God, we live to do the work of God, and so many others are tasked with doing the work “of the world.” So God taxes the rich, and asks us, “Can I have some of your works? Can I have some of your graces? Can I have some of your prayers to uphold those who are out in the world?” Yes, we are taxed a little bit extra: “Will you wake up a little bit earlier? Will you be on time for the Divine Office? Will you stay one second longer to offer that for the people?” These things are asked of us, because through them, God is “diligently executing” His work. If we give freely of the little extra things the Rule asks of us, if we do them specifically and mindfully, for the good of others, we will truly build up the body of Christ in the way in which we have been asked. We are richly blessed, and it is a joy to pay these taxes.
Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, celebrated her 45th Anniversary of Monastic Profession on September 8. During Mass, she led the nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga in singing the “Suscipe” chant (Translation: “Uphold me, O Lord, and I shall live, according to your promise; do not disappoint me in my hope.”)
(left) Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, and Archbishop Kucera, OSB after her Abbatial Blessing in 2003
(right) Portrait taken by Timothy Hurst in 2023
The year 2023 marks the 20th anniversary of Mother Maria-Michael’s service as Abbess of the Abbey of St. Walburga. And truly, her leadership is that of a servant, modeled after Christ who “came to serve, not to be served.” We are so blessed to have such a good shepherdess for our community. On honor of 20 years, here are 20 fun facts about Mother Maria-Michael:
- Her birthday is February 22, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter – what a prophetic date, since as Abbess she is the “rock” (petra) of our community, as St. Peter is the rock of the Church.
- Mother’s family is of Irish descent, and she was named “Kerri” by her parents after County Kerry in Ireland.
- She has a twin sister who lives in California (their home state), and whenever she comes to visit the Abbey and the two of them get started on a work project, they are unstoppable! It’s incredible what they can accomplish together.
- When she was 17, she prayed a novena to know God’s will for her life, and on the day her novena ended, a priest told her after Mass that God had a place for her in the United States (rather than Africa, where she had thought), and that she would be there very soon. Within a few months she heard about the convent of St. Walburga in Boulder and went for a visit, and then entered soon after, at the age of 17. Oh that everyone’s call would be so obvious and responded to with such abandon!
- She got her name “Maria-Michael” because she always had a special love for the Blessed Mother even as a young child (she took Mary as her Confirmation patron), and she loved the name Michael since she was about 6 years old and learned that Michael was a name that God, not man, chose, in naming the Archangel Michael. Her respect for the Archangel grew even more when she learned of his deep love for God, and how he challenged Lucifer after his rebellion, and was put in charge of God’s army to fight evil.
- Soon after she made her solemn vows she was made the farm manager, a position which she held for over 20 years, until she was elected Abbess on July 17, 2003, and she traded in the tractor for a crozier and pectoral cross (although she still finds excuses to drive the tractors on occasion!).
- Her Abbatial Blessing ceremony took place on September 6, only two days before her Silver Jubilee Profession Anniversary (25 years as a professed nun); needless to say it was a special week for her!
- She is an impressive guitar player – Without touching a guitar for a year she can still play “Take Me Home, Country Roads” like it was yesterday.
- One of her more surprising gifts is that she can weld. Last year she fixed the hinge to our cemetery gate when it broke, and one wonders how many Abbesses could do that?
- Her current favorite book is Ludolph of Saxony’s Life of Christ, a series she highly recommends to all.
- She has a great devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and started a weekly 3:00 a.m. Holy Hour a few years ago for any interested Sisters in our community, which is still going strong.
- Mother is the kind of person whose “Plan A” is to be available to her Sisters for whatever they need, and whose “Plan B,” which is the long list of temporal things that need her attention, is accomplished with what time remains.
- She is an excellent dog trainer – she even taught Simon, her last Grate Dane, to dance!
- Even amidst all the demands of being Abbess, Mother is very dedicated to praying the rosary every day. If you are looking for her in the early afternoon, it is very likely that she is on her “rosary walk.”
- She has a gorgeous voice, and it seems to run in her family since one of her biological sisters is a member of a barbershop quartet!
- One of her special projects as Abbess has been to create a beautiful courtyard in the Sisters’ enclosure, decked with so many kinds of rose bushes and fruit trees and plants – a little Eden.
- She daily encourages her Sisters at breakfast with reflections based on her lectio divina prayer time, using her gift of contemplate prayer to build up the body of Christ in our community, and outside our community on the website blog.
- According to Mother, there is a time for everything, including snow sledding on days that the hillside next the Abbey is freshly packed!
- One of her favorite things she gets to do as Abbess is serve the Sisters at the Holy Thursday Last Supper meal each year, and wash their feet afterward.
- Anyone can tell you that Mother has a spiritual gift of joy; she is always smiling and passing her contagious joy to others, regardless of the heavy burdens she may be carrying.
A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB
We are so blessed to have Mary as our Mother, our Queen Mother, whose joy it is to intercede for God’s people. She’s a Mother who understands us – Mary knows us, our history, our situation, and what our deepest needs are. She knows what God poured into us at our conception, and with what excitement the Trinity beheld each one of us and wondered, “What will she do with this? How will she live these gifts out?”
It reminds me of how the other day I was so thrilled to pick a little fig off of our fig tree. What a joy! It makes me think of how God sees us: The whole tree can be full of figs, but He picks one and is so joyful over it. Each one is a joy when you pick it. Each one is a joy when you see it. And you, too, are a joy for God. You, too, have a “yes”. You, too, have gifts poured into you; so acknowledge them, and then run to Christ and say, “Thank you.” Because then not only will Mary intercede for us, but she will also be able to tell God of our gratitude.
The Loving Heart of my God thought of my soul, loved it, and prepared endless means to promote its salvation, even as though there were no other soul on earth of which He thought; just as the sun shines on each spot of earth as brightly as though it shone nowhere else, but reserved all its brightness for that alone. So Our Dear Lord thought and cared for every one of His children as though none other existed. “Who loved me, and gave Himself for me,” St. Paul says, as though he meant, “for me alone, as if there were none but me He cared for.”Saint Francis de Sales
A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, given to the community on the day before Sister Assunta made her solemn monastic profession, highlighting her profession motto: “Ecce, venio” – “Behold, I come”
Tomorrow, on the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, our Sister Assunta will make her solemn monastic vows. It is fitting to claim that Saint Mary Magdalene has the characteristics of a true Benedictine (even though Benedict had not yet arrived on earth during her lifetime!). She clearly has the spirit that Benedict valued in his monks, to “prefer nothing to the love of Christ” (Rule of St. Benedict, 4.21). It’s as if she cried out in her heart, “Ecce, venio” – “Behold, I come” – when she was one of the only disciples, except for John, present for Christ’s crucifixion, when she prepared the spices for His burial, and when she searched for her Beloved at His empty tomb. The Song of Songs can be applied to her when it says, “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” (Song 3:3). She had that earnest searching of the heart, that earnest desire to be with Christ. Saint Mary Magdalene is outstandingly known for her unquestionable love for Christ, and His great love for her. Similarly, Sister Assunta is about to profess her monastic vows to become more like the One she loves, to embrace more fully the One she seeks above all, the One who has laid down His life for her and says, “Ecce, venio,” – “Behold, I come.”
Dear Sister Assunta, tomorrow a gold ring will be placed on your finger. And this is what will be said by the Archbishop to you: “Receive the ring of faith, the seal of the Holy Spirit, that you may be called the spouse of God. You are betrothed to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High Father. May He keep you undefiled in his love. Serve Him faithfully, that you may one day be crowned eternally. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Look often at your ring, and remember well to Whom you are wed. Love Him without ceasing, as Mary Magdalene did. That is our prayer for you. Keep your eyes on eternity. Life is short, but you will never regret what you do if you love Christ most of all. We can wish you nothing better.
Our Sister Assunta, OSB, professed her solemn monastic vows on July 22, 2023. Adding to the already glorious occasion of the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, Sister Assunta’s profession day was a truly blessed and joyous one, and we were happy that so many of her family members from Texas were able to join us for the celebration. Below are some of the photos of Sister Assunta’s profession.
Photos by Ellie Lempe
A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB
“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path and was trampled, and the birds of the sky ate it up…And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold… Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”Luke 8: 5, 8
Photos of birds at the Abbey of St. Walburga
We hear in Luke’s Gospel about the parable of the sower. As I was thinking about this reading, I thought about how birds usually just peck at one thing at a time. Isn’t that what happens to us in life? The “birds” peck away at the time we have to spend with God. They just take one minute at a time. It’s like when you sit down to do lectio divina and realize that your books are out of place, so you put them back in order – and there goes one seed. And then you see that your bed isn’t made yet, and there goes another couple seeds. And then you’re sitting there drinking your coffee and reading the Word, and then of course you notice a stack of papers that are in the wrong place, so you think you’ll just get them put away quickly, but then there’s another seed gone. Pretty soon, practically all the seeds have been eaten up! You’ve been in your room alright, but what have you been doing there? All those little things that are so hard not to pay attention to.
And I pondered how often this happens to us throughout the day, too. “Acedia” doesn’t mean that you don’t work, but that you’re doing the things you’re not supposed to be doing. How many times do you find yourself running hard in the opposite direction from what you’re really supposed to be doing? In the moment, it seems that “Anything else is better than what I’m supposed to be doing right now.” And yet, being attentive to our present duty it is what God is calling us to. And that takes a great deal of discipline, just to do what you’re supposed to do. Everything else is like the little ravens that are running around picking up the seeds, taking the minutes away from doing what we should be doing. All those little distractions steal from us our time with God, and we should be on guard against them.
I wonder if Martha was tempted by the birds during the dinner at Bethany, when she was busying about with every possible detail of hospitality? Jesus gently reprimanded her to not be so anxious, and that her sister had chosen the “better part” by sitting at His feet. But it seems that Martha took His correction without any bitterness, because we know that she was the first one to come out and meet Jesus when He came to raise Lazarus from the dead. She wasn’t hiding somewhere because she was ashamed of being reprimanded. What a humble soul she must have been. I pray that if we find ourselves tempted by the birds, we will have the courage to turn back to Christ and look to Him for help and guidance.
More photos of birds at the Abbey of St. Walburga
A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB
This year our community has adopted the practice of all-day exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on Mondays, with the particular intention of praying for our Holy Father and for priests. Spending extra time in adoration is like giving the widow’s mite, because as everyone knows, time is one of the most precious things to us. So when we give the little that we have, it is no small thing.
It’s so difficult today to be a priest, and equally so to be a religious. It’s just not so valued, and it’s even fought against. And so we need to pray, because we are the heartbeat of the Church with our prayer. A strong heart brings gives to all the members; without that, major organs die. That is how important our prayer is. So when you go to adore Christ in the Eucharist, it makes no difference if you feel glorious about it or if you feel just the opposite; the important part is just being there. Whatever prayer Christ puts in your heart – if you say the rosary, if you just sit there and be with Him, if you read the Scriptures – whatever it be, do it wholly. Even if you sit there and just repeat the words of St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” that would be enough. But let your heart say it. And the priests, our pope, in their hearts will hear that heartbeat. May we help it to beat strong.
About the photos: In honor of the National Eucharistic Revival (running from Corpus Christi 2022 to Pentecost 2025), we recently changed the décor of our chapel, hanging behind the tabernacle the tapestry of the Last Supper. This tapestry, hand woven by a nun at our motherhouse in Germany, was originally in our chapel at Boulder, but when we moved to Virginia Dale it would not fit in the space along with our large clay crucifix. But by replacing that large crucifix with the smaller one we had been using in our refectory, we were able to have the Last Supper tapestry return to the chapel sanctuary.
A reflection for the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB
“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.”St. John the Baptist speaking of Jesus in John 3:29-30
Nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga fishing at a nearby reservoir, reminiscent of John’s mission field: baptizing in the Jordan River
John the Baptist must have been a very humble man. Everyone surely knew the story surrounding his birth – how his father Zechariah became mute when he was serving in the temple because he did not believe the angel who told him about the destiny of his unborn son (cf. Luke 1:5-25), but regained his speech when John was born. Scripture says that, “then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to hear saying, ‘What, then, will this child be?’ For surely the hand of the Lord was with him” (Luke 1:65-66). But did John let this fame get to him? No. Instead, we know that he wore camel’s hair and survived on locusts and wild honey when he grew up! (cf. Mark 1:6). He stayed humble all his life, and pointed to Jesus when He came to the Jordan River to be baptized, telling his followers, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world…the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel” (John 1: 29,31). And at the end of his life, when he was imprisoned for telling King Herod that it was wrong to marry his brother’s wife (cf. Mark 6:17-20), John had the humility to ask Christ for confirmation of His identity. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3). He wasn’t afraid to humble himself to find the right path. He wasn’t ashamed to admit that he wasn’t certain of the truth, and he had the courage to ask Jesus for help.
Humility is the work of a lifetime, and like John, we do not know the day nor the hour of our death. But if one strives to live humbly, he too will come to that “perfect love of God which casts out fear. And all those precepts which formerly he had not observed without fear, he will now begin to keep by reason of that love, without any effort, as though naturally and by habit. No longer will his motive be the fear of hell, but rather the love of Christ, good habit and delight in the virtues which the Lord will deign to show forth by the Holy Spirit in His servant now cleansed from vice and sin” (Holy Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 7 on Humility).
A reflection for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB
Around the year 90 AD, the Didache recounts how important the Eucharistic celebration was for the early Christians:
“On the Lord’s Day of the Lord gather together, break bread and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure. Let no one who has a quarrel with his neighbor join you until he is reconciled by the Lord: ‘In every place and time let there be offered to me a clean sacrifice.”
Also, around 110 AD, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote beautifully of the Eucharist:
“I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire His Blood, which is love incorruptible.”(Letter to the Romans 7:3)
“Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: For there is one flesh of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of His Blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery…”(Letter to the Philadelphians 4:1)
“They [i.e. the Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again.”(Letter to Smyrnians 7:1)
And of course we have St. Justin Martyr’s (c. 100-165 AD) account of the Eucharistic celebration:
“For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”(First Apology, 66)
Origen (185-254 AD) writes of the care and concern for every particle of the Eucharist, that it would not fall on the ground:
“You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the body of the Lord, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall, and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish….how is it that you think neglecting the word of God a lesser crime than neglecting his body?”(Homilies on Exodus 13:3)
Oh that we had that much care and concern as the Church fathers and early Christians did for the Eucharist. But it begins with seeds. If a field has been heavily trampled upon, farmers have to re-seed it. It strengthens the old seed and makes it come up reinvigorated. We should be that seed. If we show reverence, adore the Eucharist, forgive everyone before we receive Him, have faith and belief, and most especially love, we plant the seeds to reinvigorate the Church. We should not be afraid to be vulnerable – even though it is the thing we most often want to run away from, it is often how God uses us most powerfully. If we learn to embrace this, we are like the seed that dies and is broken open, so that it may flourish. Become a seed. Become a saint. That is what God is looking for to reinvigorate His Church, that it may flourish.
Last year’s Corpus Christi procession at the Abbey of St. Walburga
A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB
In John 15 and 16, Jesus tells his apostles that He is about to return to His Father – I can imagine there was a great heaviness in His voice due to His imminent passion and death, but then it seems that a light breaks through the darkness when He speaks of the coming of the Paraclete. He tells his apostles to actually get excited, because He is about to send them the Holy Spirit. And we should be excited, too. We should feel the excitement of this time leading up to Pentecost. Jesus has died for you. Jesus has risen for you. Heaven has been opened for you. And Jesus continues to pour out His Holy Spirit on you. What a glory. What a joy!
Some lovely “Ascension clouds” over the Abbey of St. Walburga
Luke tells us of Jesus’ Ascension in his Gospel: “Then he led them [out] as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God” (Luke 24:50-53). Let us do the same as the apostles – let us go to church, full of excitement for what’s coming, a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let us imitate the zeal of the apostles in the early Church, who lived as though Jesus would return any minute.
We also hear a description of the Ascension in the Acts of the Apostles: “When they had gathered together they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He answered them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven’” (Acts 1:6-11). So, I encourage you, every once in a while, remember to look up at the sky. Is He there? One day, He really will come, whether it is in our lifetime or not. The fact that it’s going to happen is glorious – And we will be taken up to meet Him in the clouds (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:17). Think about this! We should be excited to hear about these things and ponder them, and respond by living full of expectation for His coming. I hope we can all live with the spark of joy that this news brings, because the world needs the joy of God.
“The departing Jesus does not make his way to some distant star. He enters into communion of power and life with the living God, into God’s dominion over space… Because Jesus is with the Father, he has not gone away but remains close to us. Now he is no longer in one particular place in the world as he had been before the ‘Ascension’: now, through his power over space, he is present and accessible to all—throughout history and in every place… ‘We have come to know a threefold coming of the Lord. The third coming takes place between the other two…his first coming was in the flesh and in weakness, this intermediary coming is in the spirit and in power, the last coming will be in glory and majesty’ (In Adventu Domini [by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux]).”Pope Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week”