Every year on February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, after the blessing of candles and the celebration of the Eucharist, we place our candles in a heart candelabra in front of the altar to burn throughout the day. It is a tradition that honors the Sacred Heart of Christ, which burns with love for us, and serves as a reminder that our vocation is to return love for Love – that in us, Love Himself may be loved.
Watch this video to see our candles burning on the Feast of the Presentation, and hear some of our Sisters sing “Ave Sacer Christi Sanguis”.
We hear in the Gospels about the schedule of Jesus. What was on his work list was very simple: “Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness” (Matthew 9:35). That was His work; that’s what He did.
I was thinking of the importance of teaching, and how according to the Rule of St. Benedict the Abbot does the teaching, but every one of you teaches as well. Your actions teach. Are you a good teacher? What is your class? What are you teaching? These are important questions. We hear from St. Benedict in his Rule what he would like to see in teaching:
…Anyone who receives the name of abbot is to lead his disciples by a twofold teaching: he must point out to them all that is good and holy more by example than by words, proposing the commandments of the Lord to receptive disciples with words, but demonstrating God’s instructions to the stubborn and the dull by a living example. Again, if he teaches his disciples that something is not to be done, then neither must he do it. (RB 2.11-13)
We should all look at this in our lives. What are we actually saying by our actions? Are we saying one thing and doing another? Are we expecting one thing and then not expecting it of ourselves? Think if everyone acted like you all day, how would it look? It might just be the most wonderful thing in the world, but it does help to ask that question. This is a part of renewal and conversion. I think in community it’s hard not to hold ourselves accountable. Somehow whatever we do always comes back to us. But even if this wasn’t the case, we hear from St. Benedict, “Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be” (RB 4.48-49). So God too is watching. What is the discipline in your life that helps you?
Remember how important your life is. Whether you like it or not, you are sisters!* You have an impact on your community. You do. What is that impact? This is for you to think of. Remember that everything God made is very good, so you have no excuse by saying you were made bad. You are wonderful in the eyes of God. Don’t put aside the impact you have. Don’t belittle it and think you’re nothing or that nobody sees you. That is completely untrue. You are seen and you are loved. Look honestly at your life, and if you’re looking honestly you will see the good as well as the not-so-good. Capitalize on the good – invest in it! Do all you can to be all the good you are; the rest will fade away. I wish this for everybody.
*This meditation was addressed to the community of nuns at the Abbey, where only sisters were present.
Today the Church commemorates St. Francis de Sales, whose Introduction to the Devout Life has aided many on their spiritual journeys. Here are a couple passages from his writing which are as relevant today as they ever were:
“Anxiety proceeds from an inordinate desire of being delivered from the evil that we feel or of acquiring the good that we hope for. Yet there is nothing that tends more to increase evil and to prevent the enjoyment of good than inquietude and anxiety. Birds remain caught in nets and traps because when they find themselves ensnared, they eagerly flutter about and struggle to extricate themselves and in that way entangle themselves all the more. Whenever you are pressed with a desire to be freed from some evil or to obtain some good, before all else be careful both to settle your mind in repose and tranquility and to compose your judgment and will…When you perceive that anxiety begins to affect your mind, recommend yourself to God.”
Introduction to the Devout Life
“Now then, as to these smaller temptations…As it is impossible to be altogether free from being plagued by them, the best defense that we can make is not to give ourselves much trouble about them. Although they may annoy us, yet they can never harm us, so long as we continue firmly resolved to dedicate ourselves in earnest to God’s service…Turn your heart gently towards Jesus Christ crucified and by an act of love kiss His sacred feet. This is the best means to overcome the enemy, as well as in small as in great temptations. As the love of God contains within itself all the perfections of all the virtues, and more excellently than the virtues themselves, so it is also the sovereign antidote against every kind of vice.”
Sister Pauline was born on September 4, 1934 in Verdun, a suburb of Montreal, in the province of Quebec, Canada. Her birth name was Marie Anna Yolande, and her father Louis LaPlante worked at a hosier factory, and mother Emerilda Chartier LaPlante had been a teacher, but became a full-time home-maker after Yolanda’s birth. She was the only child. At four years old, she saw a film on St. Therese and was so deeply impressed that she decided she wanted to become a nun. After her first year of high school, her parents transferred her from the French section to the English section of the same school, in order for her to learn English. After high school, Yolande attended a private secretarial college and worked as a secretary for the next six years.
At 19, she visited the Abbaye de Saint-Benoit-du-Lac and fell in love with the Benedictines. In opposition to her parents’ wishes, she entered the Monastery Mont-Laurier, 150 miles north of Montreal on October 8, 1956. She was occupied mostly with secretarial work and bookkeeping, but was also a printer for nine years. She made her first profession on October 7, 1958 and took the name Pauline.
In 1980, she transferred to the monastery of St. Walburga in Bouder. It happened like this: One afternoon in Fall of 1979, there was waiting in the parlor a tall, slim lady in her forties with carefully arranged reddish-blond hair. She was announced as Miss LaPlante, coming from Texas. After the exchange of a few pleasantries, she inquired when we would have Vespers and Compline, whether we said Matins in the morning or anticipate it the day before, and then she asked whether she could see Reverend Mother. Then she “confessed”: “I am really Sr. Pauline LaPlante, a Benedictine for almost 25 years from Mont Laurier close to Montreal. For certain reasons, I had to leave my monastery, and am now in search of a new community. I did not write beforehand, because every monastery I wrote to either did not answer at all or denied my request of transfer. So, I thought, if I am just here, you would not turn me out. I only want to save my monastic vocation!” She was close to tears. The Prioress, Mother Gertrude, agreed that Sister Pauline could stay in the guest house. She was given some work to do for two months, and on January 25, her name-day, after a letter of recommendation from her former Abbess had arrived, she was allowed to enter. There were no formal Constitutions nor Canon Law regulations known for a case of “transfers”. So, after a year of probation, again on her name day, Sr. Pauline transferred her vows to our community.
She has been a most faithful and loyal member of our community, and a stellar model of a Benedictine nun. Many people have been blessed by the correspondence she kept up as our community secretary for decades, as well as by purchasing one of the thousands of rosaries she made throughout her life. In fact, it was due to her repair of a rosary that the possibility arose for us to move to Virginia Dale from Boulder. She was known for the “twinkle” in her eye, and a thoughtful and gentle spirit that became the essence of her personality.
A reflection on the life of Sister Mary Sebastian, OSB, by a nun of the Abbey of St. Walburga
I will never forget the day that I had the opportunity to hear the story of Sister Mary Sebastian’s life. Knowing what little I did about this fun-loving nun who goes around asking people if they’ve seen her baby picture and then showing them a photo of a monkey, I was utterly shocked when I heard from her what growing up in Whiting, Indiana was like. For one, she was born and raised in a boxcar. Her dad worked for the railroad and so they offered for him to live in a boxcar, and he agreed because he didn’t have enough money for anything else. They were the only Mexicans on that side of town, so at school the kids would hit her and call her African American racial slurs since they had never seen Mexicans before. She was bullied quite a bit, but she had one friend named Camilla, a big tough girl, who stood up for her. The same Camilla also taught Sr. Mary Sebastian how to steal from stores, but apparently that only happened once, with a pencil.
With three older brothers, Sr. Mary Sebastian got the last “bed” in the boxcar: the couch. She was also last to bathe in the metal tub, after all her brothers had already bathed in it, and only once a week. Her mother made tortillas, rice and beans every day, and that’s all they ate. They used the restroom in an outhouse. No electricity. No running water. But lots of pet cats! Sr. Mary Sebastian didn’t let living in poverty get the best of her. She became the mother to many stray cats, whom she buried in the feline cemetery she created for whenever they got run over by the trains. Her Birthday was on July 4, so her father told her that the parade and fireworks were in honor of her, and she believed him for a long time. She also believed that she was born in a cabbage patch because that’s what her dad told her when she asked him where she came from, and she was so proud to tell the kids at school that she was born in a cabbage patch, when all of them were born in boring old hospitals and homes.
My heart broke when she told me about the loss of the brother she was closest to when she was 8 and he was 11, and how her mom died tragically not long after that.
The silver lining of her story was when she started talking about Morris, her husband, who she grew up going to school with. He asked to walk her home in middle school, but she was so embarrassed about the boxcar that she never let him take her all the way. One day he sweetly asked, “Will you not let me walk you all the way home because you live in a boxcar?” She was amazed to find out that he knew all along and didn’t care! Morris wasn’t Catholic, but he knew how important Sr. Mary Sebastian’s faith was to her, so he secretly went through RCIA in high school and surprised her by becoming Catholic their senior year. Their plans to go to Florida State with Morris’ football scholarship changed when he went into the Army right after they graduated. Ironically, instead of sending him to fight in the Korean War, they recruited him to be a dog trainer, even though he had never worked with dogs before. So he returned home safe and sound after about a year. They soon married and moved to Hammond, Indiana, where she worked as a switchboard operator and he went to work at the steel mills. Here it was that they began their family, 4 boys and 2 girls, and they lived a happy life in Hammond until Morris passed away from lung cancer at the age of 52. Before Morris died, he told Sr. Mary Sebastian that she would become a nun – a prophetic word, it turned out to be. Two years later she talked to her children about her religious calling, and after that she felt free to pursue what she felt was the Lord calling her to: the consecrated religious life. She entered a Benedictine community in Illinois that did nursing, and received some training as a nurse’s aid, but sought to transfer to our community after the Illinois community began to struggle. St. Walburga’s was happy to accept her transfer, and the rest is history. She made her profession in 1990, and has been a faithful nun of our community ever since. Her life is truly one of contagious delight. She brings so much joy and laughter to everyone she meets. I am truly inspired by the life of this dear Sister of mine – she is the living testimony that, come what may, you can make lemonade when life hands you lemons, or more appropriately, delicious coleslaw when life hands you cabbage.
She was the loving mother to her 6 children: Susan Vandersteen; Michael (Allyson) Geary; Laura Jean Geary; Steven A. Geary; and Benjamin A. Geary; as well as her son, Mark A. Geary, who preceded her in death. She is survived by her brother, Jess (Velma) Sandoval, as well as her gandson, Eric (Nancee) Havill, granddaughters Lauren Vandersteen (Michael Reed) and Kristen (Marcus) O’Reilly, granddaughter Mary Rayburn, grandson Zachary (Samantha) Geary as well as numerous great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Morris Dean Geary; brothers Frank, John, and Peter Sandoval and sister Yolanda Sandoval; and her sisters of the Abbey of St. Walburga.
What do we hear in the Liturgy during Advent? “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain… Come let us walk in the light of the LORD… Come and save us,” “I will come and cure them … many will come from the east and the west,” and, “come, oh LORD visit us in peace.” That word: come. Have you ever said to somebody, “Oh, just come!” and they don’t do it? I wonder if it’s the same with the Lord. When He tells us to come and we look at Him like, “huh?” The word “come” means a movement forward towards something (I looked it up). I think this is the invitation of Advent. Come. Come in every way you possibly can. I think it is what Christ does for us. When we say “come and save us” to the Lord, I don’t think He just stands there with a confused look on His face. I think He truly comes, and quickly. When we pray “come, come Holy Spirit, come oh Lord and save us.” I think He responds more quickly than a flash of lightning. I think this should be our response also—to hear Him say “come” and for us to do it quickly. It is our duty to respond when He tells us to come and climb the Lord’s mountain or to come and walk in the light of the Lord. Our response means something. Come! Let us ADORE HIM. Come, let us sing the praises of our God. It’s good to think about how we respond to this word, come.
A reflection commemorating the Feast of St. Andrew, originally given by Mother Maria-Michael in 2019
I was thinking about the incredible words we sing during the Divine Office on the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30): “Seeing the cross [of his own martyrdom], Andrew cried out with joy, ‘O precious cross! Truly I have always loved you, and I have desired to embrace you.’”
This is a disciple who ran away in the garden of Gethsemane—he didn’t stand by Jesus on the cross—so the greatest gift that could be given to him was another chance to stand by the cross. What did he do with it? He embraced it. He longed for that moment to tell Christ, “I love you, and I want to be with you, wherever that leads.” This is the power of the triumph of the cross. Love is the triumph of the cross. When we love enough that we no longer fear the crosses in our lives but we embrace them and we long for them because they unite us with him who has loved us beyond all love, that is the triumph of the cross. So today we celebrate that we no longer fear the cross; it is truly the exaltation. Of course we cannot do this of ourselves. St. Andrew, St. Peter, none of them, could have embraced the cross on their own, but with divine strength they could embrace and kiss it. And their suffering turned into gratitude. Yes, when we can thank God for the crosses in our life, God has triumphed. When we can see that it is Love that has given us once again the chance to prove our love, we will rejoice and say, “Amen!” and run toward it, because we have a chance to prove our love. Let us pray today that the cross may triumph in our own lives, because it will not happen on our own. It is completely divine strength.
This year’s calendar features stunning pictures of the tapestries that hang in our Abbey Church. They were woven for us by Frau Walburga, OSB, at our motherhouse in Germany for our chapel in Boulder in the early 1960s. Woven of hand-dyed and handspun wool, they depict the “Mysteries of Mary,” something like but not quite identical to the mysteries of the rosary. The calendar also gives the days of the Church’s liturgical days and seasons, together with days commemorated by the Order of St. Benedict, as they are observed at our Abbey.
You can order a calendar from the Abbey Gift Shop, either by telephoning us at 970-472-0612 or by ordering online (see below). The prices listed for one, two, or three calendars include tax, shipping and handling.
A reflection for the Solemnity by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB
What made the saints? What unifies them is that they all strove to seek God’s will. That is the most important point that unites the saints – the will of God. It takes the grace of God to do His will. We are called to seek it at all times and to remember with confidence that God only wills good things for us, He wills the very best. We have the ability to choose His will or not. Can you surrender completely and hand something to God and say, “What do you want me to do? What is your will for me?” That is what the saints did, and not just once, they made it a lifelong practice.
Saint Benedict is so adamant about us giving up our wills, our pushiness, our desires, our way of doing things, our vision of who we are, so that we can know God’s vision of who we are. Self-will is so strong that if we don’t learn to recognize it and to intentionally do God’s will instead, we’ll always be fumbling, we’ll never be steady. God’s will is steady; God’s will is stable.
One way of discerning God’s will is that what we’re asked to do will require us to depend on Him. You need the grace to do God’s will. And that’s what the saints did so well. They depended on God for everything. They asked God for everything. The Saints were so confident in the help of God. They never tried to do it alone.
I recently read that in the process of canonizing a saint, the person is declared “Venerable” after the Vatican Congregation determines that the Servant of God lived a life of heroic virtue. Heroic virtue doesn’t mean a person was perfect or sinless, but that she worked aggressively to improve herself spiritually and never gave up trying to be better or grow in holiness. That means we’re all candidates! As Benedictines, we take a vow of conversion – no wonder there are so many Benedictine saints. It’s what we do every day. We get up and try again. We keep trying because we want to, we want to be holy, we want to belong to God, we want to sing His praises. We want to intercede for the world. We want to live for Him. We want to care for what He loves, and we want to live with Him forever. Those are the ingredients of a saint right there.
So don’t grow slack. Seek God’s will. He seeks you and He desires only our good, only our good. Pray for the will of God for each other. Join your will with God’s and will it for another and you will be saying the best prayer you could say for anybody.
Thank you for being faithful to end, for persevering and for struggling when it was hard. Thank you for loving when it is hard to love, because that means that God is doing it for you. Let’s celebrate the Saints and ask them for help. Reach up and ask them. And then maybe 200 years for now, this feast of All Saints will be our feast too. I wish it for all of you.
“The Solemnity of All Saints is “our” celebration: not because we are good, but because the sanctity of God has touched our life. The Saints are not perfect models, but people through whom God has passed. We can compare them to the Church windows which allow light to enter in different shades of colour. The saints are our brothers and sisters who have welcomed the light of God in their heart and have passed it on to the world, each according to his or her own “hue”. But they were all transparent; they fought to remove the stains and the darkness of sin, so as to enable the gentle light of God to pass through. This is life’s purpose: to enable God’s light to pass through; it is the purpose of our life too.”