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

Our Lady of Guadalupe

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, on how Mary shows us the way to love beyond our hurts

Photo of a rose in Mother Maria-Michael’s courtyard rose garden

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.

Click here to read more about the miracle of Juan Diego’s tilma

Mary meets Juan Diego on the hill
Drawing by one of our Sisters

On Gaining Heaven

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

Sunrise over our monastery

“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.

One Body, Many Parts

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” …If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

1 Corinthians 12:17-26, abridged
Praying in our Chapel

In Chapter 60 of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict we hear the words, “…friend, for what have you come?” (Rule 60.3).  That is something we should always keep in mind.  Paul knew that his mission was not to baptize, but to preach (cf. 1 Cor. 1:17).  Baptizing is so important, but he knew that wasn’t what he was called to baptize.  He was called specifically to preach the gospel.  There were others to do the baptizing.  Even Jesus clarifies that He wasn’t on earth to do everything, but specific things.  And we have that also in the Church, where we are all called to different vocations (religious life, married life, single life, the priesthood); and there are religious orders to cover every area of service—those to help the poor, those who care for the sick, teachers, missionaries—you name it, the Church has it.  And we as Benedictines are called to seek God continually, as the face of the Church running after Him.  Our part is to seek Christ sincerely, with a great deal of love, calling out to Him, “Stay with us!” on behalf of the Church.  There are specific things we are each called to do—what a gift that the Benedictine’s is to seek God.  We give thanks that there are other people doing their parts to make up for what we lack.  Through our lives of prayer, we are included in their works, because we are all part of the same Body of Christ, His Church.