St. Andrew on Embracing the Cross

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.

Artwork by one of our sisters

Holy Amnesia

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”

John 14:1-3

This Gospel is so precious.  I love to think about how in heaven, all evil will be forgotten, because evil cannot be in heaven.  There will be a holy amnesia.  You won’t remember anything evil that has been done to you. 

It’s like when you’re working with people with dementia, and they greet you with a big, “Hello!  How are you?  It’s so good to see you!” no matter who you are.  Isn’t that sort of a touch of heaven?  It’s a touch of heaven when nothing evil is remembered.

And even those who have hurt us, when we get to heaven, we will be able to greet like our best friends.  “How good to see you…”

So holy amnesia is a beautiful thing – we can even try to do it today.

Let It Go

A reflection on Luke 10:38-42 by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

It ran through my mind today that Martha was not able to listen to Jesus when serving because she was so mad at Mary.  She wasn’t hearing a word He said—she was too busy thinking, “Look at her, she just sits there all day, and I have to do this, I have to do that, look at how unfair it is!”  We can recognize this pattern in our own lives: doesn’t it happen that when we’re angry, disturbed, not happy with life, we are not longer able to hear Christ?  Our conversation is one-sided, because we’re just complaining to Him, like Martha did.  We need to stop and listen, too.  If we don’t, we can let disturbances steal our peace of heart, steal our focus, and have say over what’s important in the moment.  It takes a lifetime to figure out the answers to the questions, “Why do I give this thing such importance? Why do I let it steal my peace of heart and mind? Can I just let it go?”  There are some things we need to address, and there are other things that maybe we need to just let go.

Pictured below, Sisters prepare the meal and wash the dishes without grumbling or complaining!

A Spiritual Passover

A reflection on following Christ and not looking back, by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

We hear about Abraham procuring a wife for his son Isaac, and how he tells his servant, “never take my son back there for any reason” (Genesis 24:6), that is, into to the homeland where Abraham was from, because God had promised him a new land.  I think we need to take that message for ourselves as well.  Don’t go back.  Don’t disbelieve God’s word to you.  Everybody’s journey is different, and God is the only one who can follow each one’s journey, because He’s the one who has given it.  He has a specific plan for you, and it’s real.  He has a specific work for you.  You have to follow through with the vocation He has called you to.  Once you say yes and take a step forward, don’t step back.  It’s not about you—it’s the work of God in you.  So don’t look at yourself all the time, because that can get really discouraging—look at God!  Look at the work He is doing in you.  Don’t stare in the mirror; instead, open the window. It’s beautiful out there!

I found a quote in Venite Seorsum: Instruction on the Contemplative Life and on the Enclosure of Nuns, about the spiritual exodus that is required of each one of us:

“From the dawn of the Chosen People’s history, Abraham is depicted as being called to leave his country, his family and his father’s house, while the Apostle repeatedly teaches that the same calling was the beginning of a long mystical journey to a homeland which is not of this world.  What in this way was merely prefigured in the Old Testament, becomes a reality in the New…The Word of God delivered us from the domination of darkness (cf. Col. 1:13), that is from sin, and through His death (cf. John 13:1; 16:28; and Heb. 9:11-12, 10:19-20) He set us on the return road to the Father, who ‘raised us up with him and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:6; cf. Col. 2:12-13, 3:1).  Herein lies the true-essence of the paschal mystery of Christ and the Church.”

This exodus is true in a particular way for those whom God has called to the contemplative life, those whom He has set aside for Himself.  God really does say to those He sets aside for Himself, “I ask you to leave everything, and to follow Me.”  It doesn’t matter if home is 10 miles away or another country.  Is it hard?  Of course it is.  But it becomes easier as you get older and heaven becomes closer.  Over time you begin to let go of things more and more, and even when someone you love is dying, you have the sense that it’s okay if God takes her, because you know you’re going to see her again.

So the Exodus really is for every single person.  Everyone experiences and lives through some sort of Exodus in their lives.  But it’s nothing to fear, because you are fed the whole way on the manna.  God is Father, and He is a very good Father.  He will take care.

Illumination by a nun from the Abtei St. Walburg in Germany

A Heart for Unity

A reflection on John 17:20-24 by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

We learn in the Gospel of John what is dearest to the heart of Christ: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.  And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20-23).  That unity is so important, and it is only possible through Christ’s prayer in us.  A question you can ask yourself (and I ask this too for myself) is, “What is the prayer Christ desires to pray through me?”  Because it will take Christ praying in us to accomplish His work of unity; we cannot do it of ourselves. 

People who are persons of unity are Christ among us.  Are you living as Christ among us?  Are you someone who helps to bring unity?  Whatever we do that breaks unity is a serious matter.  We all need to be aware of the things that cause disunity, even the little things.  And we can look at the things we need to work on with great hope, because we know that Christ enjoys projects.  I think He is a project person, and finds great joy when He has things to do.  So do not fear knowing the things you need to work on.  Let Him help you.  Listen for that prayer He is praying in you. 

One thing to keep in mind that Christ is praying in you is that you are His gift to the Father.  “Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).  That’s you and me: The Father’s gift to the Son, and the gift of Jesus to the Father.  You’re a delightful present that’s being passed back and forth between them at all times.  It would be a lie to say that you are not a gift.  Try to live knowing and believing in that!  There is no one who is not a gift from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father.  That reality should give us so much confidence to want to be with Him always, because He wants us to be with Him always.

Bleeding Hearts in our courtyard garden

Take It to Prayer

A reflection on the example of Jesus’ prayer by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

I love the story about Jesus and his disciples on the stormy sea.  It tells us so much about relationships.  We hear that “they had not understood the incident of the loaves.  On the contrary, their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:52), and after that Jesus makes them get in the boat.  He doesn’t ask them, he just tells them – maybe because He needed that time to be alone, to work through His human emotions.  He was a human man, so He was probably disappointed and hurt at their hardness of heart.  Who knows what all was going on with their hardened hearts, but it’s reasonable to imagine that Jesus was hurt because of it.  Jesus went up the mountain to pray, and what did prayer do?  I think it helped Him overcome those human emotions, and once again go to the need of His disciples.  He didn’t pass by when He heard their cries…He answered them, and He got into the boat with them (Mark 6:51). 

Sometimes we have to realize that it is only with prayer can we get through it all, especially in relationships.  Naturally we will be disappointed, naturally we will be hurt, and naturally there will be times when we’re left wondering, “How did that happen?  How was I so misunderstood?”  And then you go and pray about it.  God will help you overcome those human emotions and rise above them, so that you can still act in a Godly way.  It’s such a temptation to run off quickly and tell somebody about our unjust situation.  Instead, try to stop and pray first.  You may still end up telling somebody about it, but after some time in prayer it won’t be quite so harsh.

Prayer is always the best way to start, because Jesus will show you how to overcome the temptation to anger.  Jesus had a just anger in this situation, but that’s not where the story ended.  It’s so important to look at the ending.  He got in the boat with them and calmed the sea.  You can go to Jesus – He’s been through it all.  He truly understands, and shows us His compassionate heart.  Never, never stop praying.

Confession: Coming to the Light

A reflection on John 3:16-21, the Gospel reading for the second Wednesday in Easter by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

One of our hand-painted 2021 Paschal Candles

“And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.”

John 3:19-20

The theme of “coming to the light” gives us a great image of what will happen when we die.  If we are free when we die, we will go to the light quickly, without any problem, especially if all our sins have been confessed and everything has been brought into the light, because then there are no hidden corners, and so we are not afraid of the light.  I think that if we don’t bring things to the light, evil fills us with shame before God, and it’s shame that makes us want to hide from God.  Excessive shame shouldn’t be a part of our lives, because He died for us: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:26).  It’s good to feel shame when we sin, but we should never let our sin make us fear the light.   Never.  Because it is God Himself calling us to the light.  Whatever evil tries to make us feel so ashamed of, we should run to bring it all the more to Christ’s feet… and all the faster.   When we place our sins at His feet in Confession, they are gone.  Therefore we need the grace of light, so that we can bring everything to the light.  What’s funny is that when you bring something shameful to the light it shatters its power.  The light shatters it – it has no power!  So let us do this with great joy, especially during this Easter season.

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

Living Well in Community

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

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)

Companions of Christ, Denver (for diocesan clerics)

The Benedict Option

Families of Nazareth

Communion and Liberation

Opus Dei

Madonna House

Catholic Worker Movement

Listening with the Ears of Your Heart

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

“Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)

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. 

St. Benedict on Blessing

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! 

Statue of St. Benedict by the entrance to our Abbey