I think that, this year, it would be very fruitful for us to focus on community life. In this year of St. Joseph, we remember that the Holy Family lived in community, and I’m sure it wasn’t always ‘just peachy’ for them. Saints don’t become saints because everything is easy and there is nothing to try them. They are going to be tried. We are going to be tried. And sometimes we fail because something pushes us a little too hard, and we’re weak, so we fall – but then we need to get up again! I don’t always understand why people act a certain way, but it’s important that I pray about it and at least question the way in which I’m acting. We should all be humble enough to ask, “Where do I need to grow in this? What do I need to do differently?” Without this self-knowledge, it will be very difficult to be humble, because it’s always going to be somebody else’s fault. It is the tensions of living in community that enable us to change into something better. Ask the Lord to show you where there is room for improvement, and be prepared to do it.
So of course there are the hardships of community life, but we also know of the blessings. How many times have we walked into a meal that we’ve had nothing to do with? But somebody’s worked hard on it, and we just get to enjoy it. We walk around the Abbey and find everything tidy and clean, and it may not be an area we have anything to do with. (I should also note the Sisters who are designated to work in the gardens, wash the eggs, deal with our finances, handle maintenance issues, make cheese, and so much more, for the benefit of us all.) And the greatest gift of community life is that we have the time to pray. If we didn’t have our Rule, which orders our days so that our minds can be free of always wondering what we should do next, and if we didn’t all live together and help each other, none of us would be in the chapel as much as we are.Nor would we be able to celebrate the liturgy so beautifully. Our voices in choir complement each other so well, we have organists, and wonderful readers – God has truly blessed us abundantly. We have so much to be grateful for, and it is up to each of us to take the steps necessary to live well in community – to cherish charity, not only to do it, but to cherish it, and truly be grateful for one another.
Visit the following pages to see how others are incorporating the blessing of community life into their own lives:
Alleluia Community (our Sister Marie Therese was raised in the Alleluia community, and her father is one of the Elders)
Sister Maria-Benedicta (previously our “Sister Molly”) made her simple vows on February 10, the Solemnity of St. Scholastica, It was a joyful occasion that her whole family was able to join us for her profession—including so many adorable nieces and nephews!
Sister Maria-Benedicta was born and raised in Denver, went to college at Thomas Aquinas in California, and then came back to Colorado for nursing school in Boulder. After nursing school, while she was in Denver working at Children’s Hospital, she had many experiences that gave her a foretaste of her future life as a Benedictine nun, though she did not know it at the time. Here she describes one such instance for us:
I was finishing up a day’s work at Children’s Hospital when the word was passed around the nurse’s station: “Rachel is going to go home on hospice this week.” The news wasn’t surprising; Rachel, one of our dear patients in her late teens, had spent a lot of time on our floor over the last couple of years, and her medical condition had gotten much worse recently. After I completed my shift, I walked down the hall and knocked on Rachel’s door. I wasn’t in such a peppy mood myself that autumn. The gentleman I had been dating had unexpectedly broken up with me a few months before, and I found myself unable to leave behind the deep sadness I was still feeling. But that night I knew I had to say goodbye to Rachel and thank her for the gift she had been to me. As I sat on her bed, she told me how sad she was to be dying. I was sad with her.
As I drove home from work that night, I realized with a sudden insight that I was ALIVE, and I was filled with awe and gratitude at this awareness. By the time I stepped inside my house, I was so overwhelmed with joy at being alive that I began to write down all the things that made me grateful for my life. Memories and desires poured out almost faster that I could write them down. I was so overcome with joy for the gift of my own life that the sadness that had been oppressing me for the last few months was suddenly insignificant. I was alive!!!
My vocational call didn’t come until several years later, but the grace I received from Rachel that night was a foreshadowing of the grace I receive now in my vocation as a Benedictine nun. The immense gratitude for the gift of my life demands a response, and my response is the complete gift of my life back to my Creator in a sacrifice of praise! In fact, for me personally, this is not only one way, but the fullest way possible I can express my gratitude to God for creating me.
St. Benedict’s only goal is to seek God, so that we might begin now what will be brought to completion in heaven. Using the words of St. John, he urges his monks to “run while you have the light of life that the darkness of death may not overtake you” (Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue.13). No wonder St. Benedict directs even the most ordinary aspects of daily life so carefully. All those short moments together make up this great gift we have called LIFE, and there is no time to waste in complacency. I believe that the profound reverence and intentionality with which St. Benedict treats of those smallest choices reveals his deeply grateful heart.
The final verse of Psalm 150, which we sing at Lauds every Saturday and Feast day concludes, “Let everything that breathes, praise the Lord,” and I often note with gratitude that I am indeed still breathing, and I remember Rachel as we sing it. Thank you, Rachel, for bringing me into such a full life by your death! I pray that when I follow you into eternity someday, together in the heavenly kingdom we will praise the Lord forever.
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.
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!
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.
A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, on how Mary shows us the way to love beyond our hurts
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.
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
“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.
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 distancingpossible.