Veni, Sancte Spiritus

A reflection by our Abbess, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, as the Church prepares for the celebration of Pentecost and prays, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” (Come, Holy Spirit)

Abbey of St. Walburga Easter Vigil Mass

After Christ’s Resurrection, we hear that wonderful story about how He prepares a meal for his disciples on the shore of the lake, and tells them, “Come, have breakfast” (cf. John 21).  After this, he asks Peter three times if he loves Him, and instructs him, “Follow me.”  You would think that this would be enough for Peter, but of course he takes his eyes off of the Lord and sees John nearby, and has to ask, “Lord, what about him?”  It makes me smile how patient the Lord is with Peter, and how He simply responds, “What if I want him to remain until I come?  What concern is it of yours?  You follow me.” 

There is such wisdom in considering this – that if we get so wrapped up in the lives of everybody else, we might just miss our own.  Sometimes we get down with comparing ourselves with others, thinking, “He is more loved” or “She is more loved,” and we believe we’ve been left in the dust. Our love should be above that. What really matters is that we love.  There is such happiness in doing that. What an incredible gift it is, and what a freedom. So rather than getting caught up with how much we are loved, perhaps we should change the question to ask how much we love?  Others’ love for us may come and go, but our love doesn’t have to come and go.  Our love can be stable.   The best advice is to love God, and everything about Him.  Peter was still turning around looking at everything else, but all he had to do was look at Jesus, and it would have been enough.  Let us learn from Peter’s experience – sometimes the Scriptures are there to help us learn from others’ mistakes so we don’t have to make the same ones.  So let us be at peace with whatever the Lord gives us in life, and be content knowing that we are beloved by God.

In this blessed time after Easter, as the Church receives another outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, I encourage everyone to pray a Novena (a prayer prayed for nine consecutive days) asking the Holy Spirit to pour His gifts into you in abundance, especially the gift of love – And believe that you’re going to get what you ask for.  God is the “Creator Spirit,” and just as He is still creating new wonders in nature (have you heard about the new ocean being formed in Africa?!), He is still creating and re-creating you.  I heard that Michelangelo would look at a block of marble and start chipping away, and only then see what was “in it.”  The Holy Spirit is within us, and sees who we truly are, and chips away at everything that is not us – if we let Him.  And the more He chips away, the more we become bearers of light.  That is so key to the work of the Holy Spirit: Light.  Light in every way.  We can pray with Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new spirit within me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (v. 12, 14).  God is joy – let Him fill you completely with His joy.  We can pray that every day: “Give me Your joy!  Uphold me!  Create me anew.  Help me to follow You, that I may belong wholly to You.”  This is the Benedictine vow of conversatio morum, our ongoing conversion.  I pray this for everyone, that we might all be born anew each morning.

Evil wants to destroy life, but God wants to bring life – the world needs our witness to the power of re-creation today.  And one of the most powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit is forgiveness.  “[Jesus] said to the disciples, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:21-23).  Every time we go to the sacrament of reconciliation, we receive this gift.  Where there is unforgiveness, evil has an open door.  If you want to experience the power of the Spirit, then forgive.  Priests have the power to forgive us sacramentally, but we too get to participate in this healing power by forgiving another freely, mercifully, like Christ.  It doesn’t mean that you will forget the wrongs done to you, or feel good when you think about the person, but forgiveness is an act of your will.  Choose forgiveness, that you may release the captives in your own heart, and also be freed yourself.

We hear in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8), and I would add to that – “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God everywhere.”  I hope that we are given new eyes to see God everywhere, and in everything, for that’s what it means to have a new heart.  To be created anew is to see everything anew.  Be new.  God says in Revelation, “I will make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).  Do you believe that?  If you do, it will happen.  As one of the saints said (I forgot where I read this), you will be like a house on fire.  A soul afire with divine love is like a house on fire – when it is burning, everything inside is thrown out the windows.  And so when a soul is consumed by the flame of divine love, it casts out all that is unnecessary, and concentrates on all that is eternal: only love. 

I would like to leave you with these two Scripture verses:

“Thus says the Lord GOD: From the four winds come, O breath, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.” (Ezekiel 37:9). 

“The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily…and you shall be changed into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6)

Veni, Sancte Spiritus!


Come, Holy Ghost
send down those beams,
which sweetly flow in silent streams
from Thy bright throne above.

O come, Thou Father of the poor;
O come, Thou source of all our store,
come, fill our hearts with love.

O Thou, of comforters the best,
O Thou, the soul’s delightful guest,
the pilgrim’s sweet relief.

Rest art Thou in our toil, most sweet
refreshment in the noonday heat;
and solace in our grief.

O blessed Light of life Thou art;
fill with Thy light the inmost heart
of those who hope in Thee.

Without Thy Godhead nothing can,
have any price or worth in man,
nothing can harmless be.

Lord, wash our sinful stains away,
refresh from heaven our barren clay,
our wounds and bruises heal.

To Thy sweet yoke our stiff necks bow,
warm with Thy fire our hearts of snow,
our wandering feet recall.

Grant to Thy faithful, dearest Lord,
whose only hope is Thy sure word,
the sevenfold gifts of grace.

Grant us in life Thy grace that we,
in peace may die and ever be,
in joy before Thy face.
Amen. Alleluia.

Translation of the Traditional Latin Squence for Pentecost

Obedient to Death

A reflection by our Abbess, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

”The Last Sigh of Christ” by Julien-Michel Gue, 1840. Julien-Michel Gue, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Prayer is about listening to God, and obedience is about acting on what we hear.  Obedience requires that we be free enough in sprit to do what God asks of us.  We need to be free to do the will of God.  When there is right relationship, right order, in our lives, obedience is simple – If we just do what we’re told (unless it is a sin!), we will become holy.  Why do we sometimes try to make holiness harder than it has to be, by avoiding doing what we’re asked because we think there’s a better/holier way?  It’s only when our relationship with God is out of order that obedience becomes a problem for us – when our self-will becomes more important than serving God and our neighbor.  When we allow our inclinations that are not quite in order with God to take the first place, it puts a weight on us that makes obedience too heavy and hard to bear.  We get irritable.  We are unhappy.  It is painful.  But when our lives are brought back into proper relationship with God, and He can ask anything of us through obedience, then our peace is restored.

So the monastic vow of obedience is not a chain – it’s a ray of light.  It shows us the way to God.  It shows us the true path.  It gives us the way through the eye of a needle.  It allows us to practice every day what Christ did during His life on earth.  He who said, “I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (John 6:38), and prayed before His death, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42), and then finally became “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8), has gone before us to show us the way.  You can give up all your possessions, your time, your talent…But if you do not give up your will, you have not yet completely surrendered your all to God.  Try offering Him your will, and your will experience the fruit of His promise: “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

When we profess our vow of obedience, we place our hands between those of our Abbess

King David’s Humility

A reflection by our Abbess, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

During the season of Lent, we traditionally process from our noon meal to the chapel to pray the Divine Office while chanting one of David’s penitential psalms

I have to smile when I read about Nathan pricking David’s conscience by telling him the dramatic narrative of the ewe lamb, and how Nathan likened David to the wicked man in the story who ate the innocent man’s precious lamb, which “shared the little food he had and drank from his cup and slept in his bosom…[and] was like a daughter to him” (cf. 2 Samuel 12:1-15).  How dramatic!  But David was humble enough to admit that he had done wrong.  His conscience was very pure in the sense that when he knew he had messed up, he wasn’t afraid to say “I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”  That is so noble.  Admitting that we are wrong and sorry is something our culture doesn’t practice enough, in my opinion.  But when we bring our faults out into the open (like in the monastic custom of having a regular “chapter of faults”), it often takes away the bitterness we feel towards someone when we know that they are aware of their offences.  When you hear others admit their faults, you are more likely to feel for them and have compassion on them and try to help them, not condemn them.  It just takes courage.  It takes humility.  It takes not making excuses, but just owning up to the truth.  And living in the truth really makes you free.

David was a sinner, but he never turned his heart away from God.  David’s son Solomon, on the other hand, who was once told by the Lord that He had given him a heart so wise and understanding that there had never been anyone like him, and after him there would come no one to equal him (cf. 1 Kings 3:12), actually turned away from God when he grew older to worship foreign gods.  He did evil in the sight of the Lord, not worshipping God unreservedly, as his father David had done (cf. 1 Kings 11:1-10).  So the Lord said to Solomon, “since this is what you want” – and I think that is the most frightening word of all – “and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes which I enjoined on you, I will deprive you of the kingdom and give it to your servant” (1 Kings 11:11).  Solomon didn’t just fall; he wanted to.  Should you fall, get up quickly!  It can be good for you and keep you humble, if you respond like David did.  But to fall as Solomon, whose heart belonged at first so purely to God, and then to turn to demons…this is a true sorrow.  We have to pray for people in this situation today, because they never lose God’s love.  They just don’t respond to it.  If they would only respond, what joy they would give to God.  We have to pray that they see where they have gone wrong and trust in God’s word of mercy for them, not the lies of the demons that they use to try to shame them.  

As we learn from Solomon, it is so important to consider our desire.  What do we want in life?  What is it we want?  What is our deepest desire?  I think this is a good thing to think of, and to ask God to purify our hearts and help us to desire whatever He wants for us, so that we might be freed from anything that takes us away from Him and be ready to take His hands at all times, that we will be safe.  If your greatest desire is God, He will hold you.  

God gives you the grace every day to pick up your cross and follow Him.  But you shouldn’t look ahead at your whole lifetime of crosses – According to Luke, Jesus specifically says that we should take up our crosses daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23).  He gives you the grace for today.  You can’t look at tomorrow’s cross and feel comfortable, because you have not received that grace yet.  To pick up your cross daily is simply to desire to do God’s will.  It is to pray, “I accept this day, and I accept what it holds for me.  Whether the crosses be heavy or light, I will walk with Him.”  You know, when you love somebody you just want to be close to them.  Nothing else really matters.  When you love them, all you can think of is being close to them.  So if your cross is big or small today, He is carrying it with you, because He loves you.  He is saying to you, “Will you share My life?”

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

The First Day of Ordinary Time

A reflection by our Abbess, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

Happy first day of Ordinary Time!  (Ordinary Time comes from the Latin word “ordinalis,” meaning, “numbered,” and constitutes the period of the Church’s liturgical year which falls outside the two great seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.  The first day of Ordinary Time in 2024 was January 9.) 

Today, the First Tuesday in Ordinary Time, the first Mass reading is about Hannah and Samuel, and Hannah’s sorrow over not having any children.  When she goes into the Temple to pray for a child, Eli the priest calls her drunk, but do you think she pays any attention to that?  Absolutely not!  She simply explains to him that she is not drunk, but in a great deal of sorrow.  When we are in pain, and acting out a little bit, we know what’s really going on and why we are hurting.  So if anyone says something contrary, we don’t need to get worked up about it.  We know what is going on within us, and what we need to address.  That is why self-knowledge is so important, and living in the truth.  Live in what is real, because if you can do that, nothing is going to bother you.  You can pour it out before the Lord, and bring it to Him simply, as Hannah did (cf. 1 Samuel 1:9-20).  She abandoned her situation into the hands of the Lord, and was completely at peace.  And we can remember that in community life, when things are not going exactly as we planned, or we experience some jealousy or rivalry, we should give it over to the Lord.  Acknowledge what is really going on, what is hurting you, but then put it into His hands.  To live this way is to live for Christ.  When you can value His opinion more than anyone else’s, and count all the little hurts as nothing in comparison to pleasing Him, then you are truly living for Him.  And living for Him is the greatest thing you can do. 

In the Gospel for Mass today, we hear about Jesus entering the synagogue where there was a man with a bad spirit.  Christ never condemns the person, but He says to the demon, “Quiet!  Come out of him!” (Mark 1:25).  I love that.  It teaches you what to do when you find something in yourself that is not of God – anger, jealousy, etc.  Why don’t you just turn to that spirit and say, “Get out of me!  I don’t want you – you’re not my company.”  You do have authority to do that.  And you should, you should fight it head on.  Be straightforward about it, and count on the Lord to join you in your fight.  He Himself will say, “Get out of her!  Leave her alone!”  But you have to acknowledge it, and you have to want it to be gone.  Do this, and you will see how much freer you are.  

In transitioning from Christmastide to Ordinary Time, we take down all our Christmas decorations except for the trees in our chapel, which we leave up until February 2 (The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple).

The Dash of Christ

A reflection by our Abbess, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, shared with the nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga on the day before Christmas

Abbey of St. Walburga Outdoor Nativity Scene

This Christmas I have for you a poem, which is not necessarily about Christmas, but I think you’ll see how it truly is. It’s called “The Dash,” by Linda Ellis (click to read full text of poem), and in it she talks about the significance of the line between the two dates on a tombstone, and how important it is that we “spend our dash” on the things that matter.

Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of our Lord and Savior – the day His dash began.  I also see the word “dash” as “to run,” because Jesus did dash, with great joy and with great glory, to accomplish the work His Father had sent Him for.  So He dashed not only with a line, but with a roar.  And as I read the life of Christ, I am seeing more and more how in the gospels Jesus is giving great hints, insights that He knew long before.  He knew the beginnings of His life, and far beyond, before He was born.  We read in Matthew 25:5-7, that while the bridegroom was slow in coming (mind you, it really was a long time between the time of Adam and Eve and the Messiah!), they all began nodding their heads and fell asleep, but at midnight there was a shout: “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” (Matt. 25:6).  We should respond to this coming with the author of the Song of Songs: “Hark! my lover—here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills” (Song 2:8).  Yes, we do come, as the shepherds did and the magi did.  There were radiant stars and angels, and perhaps even our own guardian angels, present there at the birth of Christ, with our future lives in mind. 

Tomorrow we will celebrate His wondrous birth, showering the world with radiant beams, salvation, and healing grace.  Over the next few months in the Church’s liturgy, we shall traverse the dash of His life, and then we shall come the date of His death.  But that isn’t the end – there is the explosive power of His Resurrection.  As we make this journey, let us remember that, “What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.  So, think about this long and hard.  Are there things you’d like to change?  For you never know how much time is left that can still be rearranged” (excerpt from “The Dash” by Linda Ellis).

And so now here we come, and the road is the dash, the dash of our life, and how we live it will depend on how we dash.  Will you run with the light of life?  Will you run with joy to do whatever is asked?  Let us light our lamps and be ready to meet the Bridegroom when He comes.  Think of Paul and Silas singing in prison, and how at midnight there was an earthquake and they were freed – the chains dropped!  Let us all be ready to drop the chains that keep us from dashing through life, dashing along the Way that is Christ. 

There was a beam of heaven that intersected the dash of His life, making His dash a radiant cross.  Let us not let His dash pass us by, but instead intersect our own and make us one.  I wish that each one here would truly dash as He did, living to please the Father.  And let your life be written on the parchment of Mary.  She will keep it safe, and she will not let it go.  I wish you all a blessed and Merry Christmas.

Abbey of St. Walburga Outdoor Nativity Scene

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)

Church Dedication Anniversaries

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

This is a festive season for Church Dedication Anniversaries, with the feast of the Dedication of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver on October 27, the solemnity of the Dedication of our own Abbey Church on November 7, and the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome on November 9.  Reflecting on the theme of beautiful cathedrals, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB reminds us that our souls, too, are temples dedicated to the Lord.

In the liturgy for the anniversary of the Dedication of a Church, we get to sing that lovely antiphon: “This is the house of God, the gate of heaven.”  We say this of our churches, but our souls are also like churches – truly, little houses of prayer and worship.  Each one of us should be a place where all can come and ask for prayer.  As Benedictines, we love our Church, we treasure our Church, we protect our Church – and we should protect the church within ourselves as well.  Think of the beautiful cathedral in Denver, or any of the stunning cathedrals around the world, and know that your soul far outruns them.  Your soul is far more beautiful than any one of them, and to keep it that way is important.

In the history of the Denver Cathedral, right before the dedication was to take place, a lightning bolt struck Preview (opens in a new tab)one of the towers and knocked it down; but they just built it right back up and got it ready!  I think that’s what we do, too, sometimes, when we get knocked flat, and one of our towers goes a little wimpy.  We call on the Lord, and He builds it right back up for us, so we can stand tall.  We have to have faith in this – that whatever happens to us, we are not going to be totally shattered.  God can rebuild anything. 

So when we see a beautiful cathedral, it is an image of our own soul.  That’s something to think about.  What does your cathedral look like?  Who are the Saints in it?  How big is the sanctuary lamp*?  Does everybody who sees you see the presence of Christ?  We should strive to be persons who always take Christ everywhere. 

I love the liturgy of the Dedication of a Church, because it talks so much about the Church as the Bride of Christ, and we know that we, too, are brides of Christ.  So we pray in a special way on these feasts for each other and for the Church, that her beauty may shine forth to all the world.

*A sanctuary lamp burns near the tabernacle in Catholic churches to signify the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament

The sanctuary lamp burning near the tabernacle in our Abbey Church

Address to Oblates

On October 8, 2023, we gathered to celebrate the final oblations of three of our oblates.  During the ceremony, Mother Maria-Michael delivered an inspiring address, emphasizing our Benedictine call to stability, obedience, silence, humility and prayer. Below is an abridged form of her address to the community of oblates and nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga.

I welcome each one of you, and I am so happy for this day, and for our new oblates!  I want to thank all of our oblates for pursuing the Benedictine way.  I thank you because you are living in the world what we are living here, showing a glimpse of our Abbey to those who may never come here.  It is you who bring us out into the world by living the Benedictine spirituality.  That is no small thing!  We are so grateful that you are doing that important work of living in the world amongst God’s people (and they are God’s people, whether they like it or not!) and being a witness to Christ for them. 

What a joy and blessing it is to be united in our love for God and our desire to live lives of holiness by following the precepts of St. Benedict, as given in his Holy Rule.  You notice it’s not just a “rule,” it’s not just a way to be; it’s a holy rule.  It is a way of life hastening us toward our heavenly home by providing us with tools for the cultivation of virtues.  In the Holy Rule of St. Benedict we learn about the great pillars of monastic life, the things that make monastics.  One of these pillars is stability, and by this I do not mean that the vocation of oblates is to live with us in our monastery (we don’t have the room anyway!).  The Holy Rule helps all of us with establishing stability in our lives, stability in the community in which we pray, stability in the Church, and most especially, stability in Christ.  Stability in Christ is not to live in fear and worry about what will happen in the future, or constant regret over the past, but to embrace the sacrament of the present moment.  Really, this is a wonderful mark of a Benedictine: If you wake up in the morning and say, “I get to do this again!”  “I get to do it as I want, as I will…To follow God.”  “I’m not going to hold on to the burdens of what went wrong yesterday; I’m going to wake up fresh, and with the desire for conversion, in order to live this day the best I can.”  Because you never know what day will be your last, so try to live each day well.  That is truly a Benedictine way of being. 

Mother Maria-Michael addresses the oblates making their final vows:
I want to thank you for coming forth to make your final oblation to our Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga.  Continue to get to know St. Walburga; she is an incredible saint.  She truly loves God and everything He loves, so she has the holy oil flowing from her bones to this day, as she never ceases loving God’s people and interceding for them.  

Another pillar is found in Chapter 5 of the Holy Rule, the chapter on obedience.  “The first step of humility is obedience without delay, which comes naturally to those who prefer nothing to the love of Christ.  Because of the holy service they have professed…they carry out the superior’s order as promptly as if the command came from God himself.”  When you practice obedience in your life, what does it look like?  As an oblate, paying attention to what the Abbess says is important, because it is a bond that unites us.  It also means obeying the Church, reading the Holy Rule and doing the best you can to live it out.  It means obeying your husband, obeying your wife, and not following your own will all the time.  If you’ve been doing something a certain way for a really long time, would you be open to changing it?  When you go about your day, don’t just do things because that’s what you’ve always done – think again why you do it, why you do the things you do, and maybe you will find that there is something that God wants to be perfected.

Then we have the pillar of silence: “I said I would guard my ways lest I should sin with my tongue” (Holy Rule, Ch. 6).  We really should watch our words, because words are a mirror of the heart.  What you say matters.  St. Benedict also says in Chapter 6, “To speak and to teach is the province of the master, whereas that of the disciple is to be silent and listen.”  This is especially true of our time spent in lectio divina (praying with Scripture).  Through this, we receive food of our souls.  On the Twenty-Sixth Thursday in Ordinary Time, we had a reading at Mass from book of Nehemiah that beautifully emphasized the importance of listening to the Word of God.  We read, “The whole people gathered as one in the open pace before the Water Gate, an they called upon Ezra the scribe to bring forth the book of the law of Moses which the Lord prescribed for Israel” (Nehemian 8:1).  I like that word “prescribed,” because it’s like a prescription, a medicine for our souls.  It was what was prescribed by God.  The Scriptures are like medicine for us.  They heal, they enlighten, they show us the way…But we have to be silent and listen.  We have to give time to God to speak.  Nehemiah continues, “He read out of the book from daybreak until midday…and all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law…Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the Lord, their faces to the ground…Then Nehemiah [and Ezra and the Levites] said to all the people: ‘Today is holy to the Lord your God.  Do not be sad, and do not weep’–for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law…Then all the people went to eat and drink, to distribute portions and to celebrate with great joy, for they understood the words that had been expounded to them” (Nehemian 8:3, 6, 9, 12).  There you have a wonderful example of lectio divina, because the people listened, they understood, they cried, and they rejoiced.  Sometimes there will be tears with our prayer, but we should never leave the experience without rejoicing, because it is such a gift of God to know and to understand His word to you. It is essential to allow God’s Word to form you, to confirm you, to convict you, and most especially to love you.

Anna-Marie, a niece of one of our Sisters, signs her oblation card

Then we have humility, another one of those great pillars.  One aspect of humility is acknowledging one’s faults.  How often do you say you’re sorry?  It is so important to be able to apologize to people you have hurt and ask their forgiveness.  Another of St. Benedict’s points in his chapter on humility is contentment with one’s circumstances (cf. Holy Rule, Ch. 7).  Are we content with the circumstances we find ourselves in, or do we spend more time complaining about them than we do facing them and asking God to help us understand them?  Do we ask Him what He might be trying to show us through them?  Or if He doesn’t wish to reveal His reasoning to you when you ask, can you live with that, and be content anyway because you trust Him?  St. Benedict talks about not laughing in Chapter 7 as well, and I believe what he means is that kind of boisterous laughter that prevents you from hearing anything else that’s going on.  There is also the laughter that hurts others, which should certainly be avoided.  Laughter should never tear another person down; it is good to have a good time and laugh about happy things, but never to laugh in a way that harms another.

The chapters between 8 and 20 of the Holy Rule are about prayer – private and communal – and I want to emphasize the part about reverence in prayer.  St. Benedict writes, “Whenever we want to ask some favor of a powerful man, we do it humbly and respectfully, for fear of presumption.  How much more important, then, to lay our petitions before the Lord God of all things with the utmost humility and sincere devotion” (Holy Rule, Ch. 20).  I think of how the Old Testament prophets like Daniel prayed for the people by saying, “We have sinned…”  They didn’t point their fingers and blame the people, but they rather included themselves with the people and said, “We have done this…”  Similarly, when we pray for the Church, when we pray for the world (especially when we pray the Divine Office), we too are a part of that Church, a part of that world; and so when we stand before God to pray, we don’t blame others, but pray for them by standing by them and saying, “We have sinned…” “We have done this…” If you pray this way, you will start to see things differently, and it will transform how you pray.  Also regarding prayer, St. Benedict quotes the psalmist saying, “Seven times a day I praise Thee” (Holy Rule, Ch. 16).  I’m not sure if you have seven times a day to pray the Psalter, but you do have seven times in the day when you can say, “My God, I love You.”  How many times do you just stop what you’re doing and acknowledge God’s presence?  That is Benedictine. 

Oblates make their promises to Mother Maria-Michael, OSB

If our Church today could take these simple things, the Benedictine pillars of stability, obedience, silence, humility and prayer, and place them in the core of the Church, do you think it would look different?  Would we hear different things?  Let us assist the Church by embracing these pillars in our own lives.  I offer this challenge to you, as you make your final oblation, and to all of us – the challenge of living the Benedictine virtues of stability, obedience, silence, humility, and prayer.  The sacrifices you will make to live out these precepts of St. Benedict are no small ones, but in faith, we know that, “Never departing from this guidance, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen” (Holy Rule, Prologue).  This is what I truly wish for you: the Kingdom of God.

Oblates and nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga sing the “Receive me, O Lord” chant

Spiritual Taxes

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

In the first year of his reign, King Cyrus issued a decree:
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.

Ezra 6:3, 7-8, 12

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.”)