Lent 2024: Restoring Reverence and Gratitude

A reflection by our Abbess, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, given to the nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga in preparation for Lent

The 40 days of Lent are such a wonderful gift that we give to God because we love Him.  Rather than being a big burden, Lent is really a joyful time, a time to look forward to and get excited about.  It’s a time to give to God in a very special way, and we do it in union with the whole Church – It’s so much bigger than just us.  This Lent, let us focus on amending the things we do which harm relationships, because unity is a very serious thing to God, who prays “that they may be one, as we are one,” (cf. John 17:22).  As you prepare your Lenten resolutions, ask, “How can I improve?”  Specifically, let’s consider how we can grow in the areas of reverence and gratitude.

Reverence seems to be a lost art, which I think Benedictines are truly called to bring back.  St. Benedict expects reverence from us: reverence for God, reverence for one another, and reverence for the abbot/abbess/those in authority.  I don’t think we learn this very well in our society today.  Rather than treating all people with dignity and respect, there is this idea that anyone can say anything they want to anyone they want, and just lay it all out there, and there is little consideration of those in authority.  What people don’t understand regarding authority is that it’s the office that is respected.  Even if we don’t respect the person, we treat them with respect because of the office they hold.?Whether we agree with a person in authority or not, it is not our place to tear them down and speak disparagingly of him.  Listening is an important part of respecting one another.  You have to put yourself aside and recognize Christ in another, even if you go blind because you’ve strained your eyes so much trying to do it. 

Keeping our rooms in good order is also a part of reverence.  We hear Christ tell His disciples to “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).  One such deserted place should be our cells (the monastic term for “bedrooms”).  Our cells should be “deserted” in the sense that they are free from clutter, so that we are truly able to rest in them.  We should be able to sit down and rest a while – and notice that it doesn’t say to stay there all day, but just a while.  This coming Lent we should really take care to get rid of the things we don’t need, so that we are able to come into our cells and sit down and be quiet and know the Lord’s presence there.  If we come in and we just ask to be in God’s presence, the walls of our rooms will pick up that peace.  It will be as if “The Peace of Christ” is written on your walls.  And think about the pictures/artwork you have on your walls, and that they too will reflect on you – Do they foster the sense of God’s presence?  I truly hope that they do.

Another thing to think about this Lent is gratitude.  Try to rejoice and love the gifts of God.  I don’t think God wants us to walk around like Eeyore all day, saying, “Oh poor us” or “Don’t be too happy.”  We belong to God – there is every reason to be joyful!  Don’t be afraid to express joy.  Don’t be afraid to be happy.  I know sometimes people are afraid to be happy because they’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop, and so they’re afraid to rejoice.  But if we take everything from the hand of God, then it won’t matter.  We will accept with gratitude whatever it may be, because we know the Lord, and we trust the Lord, and we are not afraid of anything, because we have put everything into His hands. 

A cross visible from the Abbey of St. Walburga guest courtyard and cloister courtyard, after a big snow on February 4

Clothed in the Benedictine Habit

A reflection by our Abbess, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, on the morning of Sister Clare’s clothing day, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 2023)

The Immaculate Conception has a lot to do with hope.  Hope, biblically, is a confident expectation and trust in God and His promises.  You will find the word “hope” everywhere in the scriptures.  For God has boundless hope in His creation.  After the fall of man in the garden of Eden, God immediately began the process of restoring man to an even greater glory.  And it was in the immaculate conception of Mary that man began to shine once again with its original beauty, with the perfection that God intended from the beginning.  In Mary, God burst forth with His hope for mankind.  You and I are also part of His hope.  Do you know how much hope He has in you?  As nuns, we sing the “Suscipe” chant when we make vows: “Uphold me, O Lord, and I shall live.  Do not disappoint me in my hope.”  Well, think of turning the “Suscipe” around, and God singing it to you!  “Uphold Me, and I will live in you.  Do not disappoint Me in My hope.”  Can you imagine that?  Can you imagine God saying that to us? 

Mother Maria-Michael and Sister Clare

Mary did not say, “Be it done to me according to Your word” only once, but throughout her whole life.  It should be the same with us.  Even when things are difficult, we have to be able to say with confidence, “Be it done unto me according to Your word.”  Because by our response is how we are transformed into that perfection; and God is staring at us full of hope, saying, “Come on!”  He wants that for us.  He wants that purity.  He wants that love that He intended for man. 

So Clare, today you will be clothed in the garments of one who lives for God, under the guidance of our Holy Father Saint Benedict.  You are putting on what you are hoping for.  Your hope is not alone – we join you in that hope; and heaven, too, is full of hope.  May the habit you will wear remind you of the words of our Blessed Mother, “Be it done unto me according to Your word.”  Your novitiate has a beginning in time, as the immaculate conception of Mary did.  May she guide you through the novitiate, and may God’s hope for your life color every day, and be filled with the breeze of Eden that says, “He is coming.”  And I hope that we all experience this breeze, as when the Holy Spirit comes powerfully into our lives.  Remember that it was a relationship that was lost in Eden; it was a love that was lost.  God expects a different response from us, so that we might reverse the effects of the fall by turning to Him, and continually pursuing that loving relationship.  The next time you feel a soft breeze on your face, think of God coming quickly to see you.  And be ready to respond with love.

Every year on December 20, the Church gives us this beautiful reflection by St. Bernard on Mary’s fiat in the Office of Readings:

You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

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)

St. Walburga’s Oil

Every year on October 12 the holy oil from Saint Walburga’s tomb in Germany begins to flow, and it continues until her Feast Day on February 25. Due to the testimonies of many people who have experienced God’s healing power after anointing themselves with the oil and asking Saint Walburga to pray for them, it seems that this quote from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux may also be applied to our patroness:

“I wish to spend my heaven in doing good upon the earth.”

Photo of Saint Walburga’s crypt at the Abtei St. Walburg in Eichstätt, taken by one of our Sisters who travelled to Germany for the Abbatial Blessing of Mother Hildegard, OSB. The images on the walls are memorial plaques depicting miracles attributed to Saint Walburga, donated by patrons in gratitude for her intercession.

Embracing the Cross

A reflection on the triumph of Love by Mother Maria Michael Newe, OSB

I was thinking about the incredible words we sing during the Divine Office on the Feast of St. Andrew: “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.

May this Easter season bring you much joy in the resurrection of Our Lord, who suffered his cross for the love of us, that we might have a sense of the depths of his love and desire to return our love for his.

Artwork by Sr. Ancilla Armijo, OSB