Death is Just a Door

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

Doorway to our Chapel

In the Holy Rule, St. Benedict recommends that we keep death before us daily (Rule 4.47), and the point of this is to keep our eyes on the goal: eternal life.  St. Benedict writes in the Prologue, “We shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ, that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen” (Rule Prol.50).  If you keep your death before you, if you keep your goal before you, it will help you to live more purposefully.  It is so important for us to live attentively in the present moment.  Every chance you have to love now, you will never have again.  And it’s not that there won’t be more opportunities to love, but each specific one, when it passes, is gone.  And we don’t want to miss them too many times.  We want to be attentive to love, so that we can truly love as Christ does, laying down our lives in a sort of martyrdom, dying to selfishness and living to selfless love of others.  The Resurrection of Christ shows us that life doesn’t end with death—death is just a step into eternal life with God.  Every single one of us will stand before the door of death one day, and if you have already met it many times throughout your life, there won’t be a question of what you’re going to choose.  Live a lifetime of learning how to choose well, so that the final choice will just be the same as you have chosen throughout your life.  When He asks us as He asked St. Peter, “Do you love me?”, I hope that our answer will be the same, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you” (John 21:15).

St. Benedict and Obedience

A reflection on the call to loving obedience by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

Linocut artwork of St. Benedict by one of our Sisters

We hear over and over in the Old Testament the words of the prophets calling the people to return to the Lord.  It makes me think of our Holy Father St. Benedict—could he not be considered one of the great prophets as well?

In chapter five of the Rule we hear about St. Benedict’s teaching on obedience.  It has a value and a power far beyond our little means, because it is united with Christ.  It can be a golden tool in our lives if we allow it to be.  If we think only of being “forced” to obey, we will not get very far.  But if we think of being obedient because Christ was obedient, and to counter the fall in Eden, which happened out of disobedience, then we will be using the gift of obedience for the highest good.  If we cherish Christ above all, cherish Him deeply, we will carry out all our duties as if we heard them from God Himself.  

The Rule tells us that monks who truly practice obedience abandon their own concerns, leaving whatever they have in hand unfinished, in order to hearken to the signal for the Divine Office (Rule 43.1).   If we don’t practice this form of obedience in the little things, we will be tempted to reason our way out of everything.  It is love that impels us to pursue everlasting life and the narrow road, no longer living by our own judgment or giving in to our own appetites, but saying with Christ, “I came…not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (John 6:38).  Christ’s love working in us impels us to act as He did.  Love alone will give us this grace.  

And when we feel that we cannot handle the obedience being asked of us, we can look to Christ’s example on the Mount of Olives.  He cries out to the Father for help, “Father, take this cup away from me,” but ultimately surrenders Himself with the words, “but not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Becoming Children

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

“At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.’”

Matthew 18:1-5

We know what it means to be a child: a child can’t provide for itself.  A child is watched after.  A child is fed.  A child is wrapped in light as in a robe.  A child is kept warm.  A child is cared for.  A child is loved.  Or it should be.  That’s what is means to be a child.

Unfortunately we live in an age of entitlement, in an age of “I deserve…”.  And if that’s the approach, nothing will be gift, because “I’ve deserved it, it’s just mine.”  Instead we should try to practice gratitude, because everything is gift.  Nothing is yours to keep, but for you to use for the glory of God.  When we live this way, there is a real freedom of detachment.  We are so cared for as God’s children, and in return we have One who deserves all our love.  Thank Him! Never stop answering His call to be His child.  How fully are you giving yourself to Him who has given you everything?

Seeking the Beloved

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

I think it’s so delightful in the Gospel of John when Jesus says to His apostles, “A little while, and you will no longer see me; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16).  Doesn’t that sound like the spiritual life?  A little while and you won’t see Him…and it’s so true.  You find yourself asking, “Where are you, Lord?  Where is Your voice?” and then He pops in all of a sudden and reminds you that He’s right there and He’s been there the whole time.  But in those times of seeming darkness we can really focus on hearing and seeing God in our neighbor.  A good word from someone is often His word.  A look of kindness is His look.  A little gesture of love is from Him

God loves that disappearing and reappearing act.  You see it all through the Gospels as Christ comes to and then vanishes from His disciples after His Resurrection.  I think it helps us to always look for Him.  It keeps our heart searching and attentive.  It’s as in the Song of Songs where she “sought him but could not find him” (Song of Songs 3:2), but then she went out on the streets looking and there he was.  Seek God with all your heart and you will find Him, and you will truly be a happy soul.

Artwork by one of our Sisters inspired by the Song of Songs (Chapters 2-3)

The Little Things

A reflection on 1 Kings 17:7-16 by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

In the Book of Kings, we hear that the brook near where Elijah was hiding had run dry because no rain had fallen.  As we know, there is a real test of hope when it’s really dry, because there’s the sense that it’s really out of our hands.  So Elijah leaves his cave and goes to Zarephath and asks the widow he meets there for a small cup of water to drink.  Water was precious in the drought, so you notice he doesn’t ask for a few gallons, or even a large glass of water.  He is sensitive to the situation, so he asks for a small cup.  This scenario reminds me of how God is with us—He knows what we can give and what we can’t give.  He’s well aware of when it’s difficult, and of the things we struggle with.  He doesn’t put a load on us heavier than we can carry—He’s very sensitive to us.  He too says, “Bring me a small amount.  Bring me even the little you may feel like you don’t have.  Just a little bit, please bring Me.”  It’s like the times when we are so tired and ready to leave the chapel, and yet what do we do?  We turn around and kneel, just for a minute, to say, “I love you,” and ask for His blessing.  Or there may be a time when someone has been particularly nasty to us, but we have a moment of grace and, before we end our time together, we have the charity to say, “Thank you.”  It’s just a small thing, but these small things give life.  They mirror the tenderness of God.  When we know God’s tenderness we are tender toward each other.  However tender you are, that is how tender God is toward you that you’ve noticed.  It’s not that He isn’t tender—it’s that you haven’t always noticed.  Pay attention to the tenderness of God, because it will stretch your soul to holiness.  Start to notice the little ways in which God blesses you throughout the day. 

Illustration by one of our Sisters of Christ feeding the 5,000 (John 6:1-13)

Heaven on Earth

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

You hear about all the negativity happening in the world, and the problem is not that it isn’t true (although sometimes that is the problem), but that we forget that there is always the Risen Lord to turn to.  They key is that all these negative things don’t have the final word.  Whenever we give negativity the higher place in our lives, we have chosen the wrong thing.  We can’t sit in that state, because then it has power over us, and eventually it wears us down. 

Never forget the power of the Risen Lord.  He has promised His Church that He will be with us, and so He will.  He already is.  In spite of everything, He is the victorious Lord.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at and acknowledge all the negativity, but only that we don’t stop there.  We have the victorious Lord.  I always like being on the winning side, that’s just the way it is.  And with Him, I am.  Every day we have the chance to sing of His victory, and in doing that we are lifting the world up.  Remember that evil never has the last word; it’s always followed by an apostrophe, and the exclamation point that follows is Christ, the victory of Christ.

By doing and choosing the good things, and not allowing ourselves to sit in negativity, but choosing the Risen Lord, we will choose the right thing.  Let our focus be on our closeness to Christ.  Let me give you an example of this from the geese I was watching this morning walking through the field.  It was delightful—there were so many geese followed by their little goslings hopping through the grass.  And then I saw a blob in the field but couldn’t tell what it was, so I took the binoculars to get a better look.  It was two geese so close together that they looked like one.  What a beautiful image—so close that they looked like one.  If that can be our image with God, if that can be our choice, we’re already living a portion of heaven on earth.

Geese in a field near the Abbey

“The meadows of the wilderness also drip; the hills are robed with joy. The pastures are clothed with flocks, the valleys blanketed with grain; they cheer and sing for joy.

Psalm 65:13-14
Geese and goslings swimming in our pond

Corpus Christi

A reflection on the Body and Blood of Christ by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

As in the garden of Gethsemane when Christ soaked up all the evil of the world and took it upon Himself, when we receive the Body of Christ and our venial sins are forgiven, Christ soaks up from us all the evil.  What are we doing with that?  Do we just receive Communion and go on with life?  Or do we really take it as a remedy to whatever is in us that is not of God?  Do we ask for the graces that will change us?  After receiving the Eucharist, we should never be the same.  It should have an incredible effect in us.  It should change us.  But we have to be attentive to it, and we have to let God build on us.  God can take everything out of you that is evil: jealousy, anger, agitation, pride, envy, etc.  These things continually creep up in our lives, but we can fight against them by receiving Holy Communion as often as we can.  If you want to be made new, God will do it, there is no doubt.  When we start paying attention to the reality of what is happening, life changes for us.

Regarding the Precious Blood of our Lord, it is very powerful to spiritually cover ourselves with His Precious Blood. The Blood of Christ is the life of Christ.  What gave Him life and poured through Him we ask to be poured over us.  He pours it out as a fountain that never stops, and we can drink of it fully in the spirit.  This will also help transform us.  So we take steps of holiness; sometimes they’re big and sometimes they’re small.  What matters is that we keep taking those steps forward, and little by little God truly will make all things new.

“Suppose that there are many who bring their candles, one weighing an ounce, others two or six ounces, or a pound, or even more,…in each candle, whether large or small, is the whole light, that is to say, the heat, the color, and the flame; nevertheless you would judge that he whose candle weighs an ounce has less of the light than he whose candle weighs a pound. Now the same thing happens to those who receive this Sacrament. Each one carries his own candle, that is the holy desire, with which he receives this Sacrament, which of itself is without light, and lights it by receiving this Sacrament…You receive this Light according to the love and fiery desire with which you approach It.”

St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, A Treatise of Prayer
The Eucharistic Lord on our altar

Click here to learn about the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, where a consecrated host was physically changed into heart tissue.

The Holy Rule Leads to Love

A reflection on the purpose of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

The Rule of St. Benedict outlines for us how to live a righteous life, and most importantly, it leads us to love.  At the end of our lives, we will be judged by love.  Just as the law isn’t going to save us so the Rule isn’t going to save us.  But if we do what it says, it leads us to love.

In the Prologue, St. Benedicts says that his Rule is from “a father who loves you” (RB Prologue:1).  His bottom line is that he’s writing it out of love.  According to the dialogues of St. Gregory, at the end of Benedict’s life, his love needed to be perfected.  So St. Scholastica, who was more perfect in love, was there to show him this last mark of his life that was needed—that love triumphs.  The law was good and necessary, but it leads to love, and that’s its only purpose. (Click here for Gregory the Great’s account of this meeting).

Again, we hear in the Rule that “as we advance in the religious life and faith, we shall run the way of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love” (RB Prologue:49).  That’s what we’re all supposed to become.  That’s what St. Benedict so desires for us.  It is nothing more than the gospel message to love God and love our neighbor, and he shows us clearly a way to do this in his Rule.  I challenge everyone to read Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule and pick one thing to work on for the good of the Body of Christ, for the better of another, for love.  Do this seriously, that Christ may look upon you and say, “What a light in this world, which is so needed.  I see clearly that my death meant something.”  And in this way we will comfort the heart of Christ.

One of our Sisters reading the Holy Rule of St. Benedict and enjoying the beautiful Spring weather.

Holy Jealousy

A reflection on the first reading from the Office of Readings for the second Tuesday of Easter (Revelation 2:1-11) by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

The Book of Revelation has a wonderful word for us today. St. John addresses the churches at Ephesus and Smyrna, so his message is in one sense for a particular time, and yet it also contains a window to eternity. He poetically writes:

…the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven lampstands of gold has this to say, ‘I know your deeds and your labors and your patient endurance. I know you cannot tolerate wicked men. You have tested those self-styled apostles who are nothing of the sort and discovered that they are imposters. You are patient and endure hardships for my cause. Moreover you do not become discouraged. I hold this against you, though. You have turned aside from your early love. Keep in mind the heights from which you have fallen. Repent and return to your former deeds.’

Revelation 2:1-5

What I love about this admonition is that it tells us what is important to God. What is so important is that we keep returning to Him. Sometimes turning aside just means you are looking the other way, but He is a jealous God, and He wants to mean so much to us that we can’t keep our eyes off Him. He desires that we so trust Him. Christ wants to brush away anything in our hearts that might impede us from looking at Him. It’s as if He says, “Whatever it is, bring it to me. I don’t want anything to impede us. Remember that I’m all powerful…I have the power to forgive. I have the power to raise you up. I have the power to do all things for you. I only ask one thing: love Me first. Let Me be your first glance. Let Me have everything in you. And trust Me, I’ll take care of the rest.” Now that’s love. And it is such a treasure for Him when we are no longer afraid to bring Him everything that is troubling us, everything that is embarrassing, and believe that He is just so pleased to find that we trust Him. That’s what means so much to God—that we trust Him. To think that one can be perfect and not need God is really an abomination. That hurts Him more than anything. When we are real and honest we know that we need Him, and this is our great joy.

Photograph of the Big Dipper taken from the Abbey’s upper deck. The Big Dipper is part of the constellation Ursa Major, “The Greater Bear.”
“He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads upon the back of the sea.
He made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south;
He does things great and unsearchable,
things marvelous and innumerable.”
(Job 9:8-10)

Nourished by the Word

A reflection on the Gospel reading for April 15, 2020 (Luke 24:13-35) by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

After His Resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples and asks if they have anything for Him to eat. We can see by this that He so wants to be at home with them, wants them to recognize that it’s really Him, and they do not need to fear. I can imagine Christ saying, “I’m here with you, I’ll eat with you, I’ll do all things with you…Do not be afraid.”

Then we hear that “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). I think this is the key to Lectio Divina—it’s not something we do of ourselves, but something Christ does. All we need to do is be present. He can open the Scriptures for us. He can bring to life those words. You are going to hear it straight from Him. I pray that whole world would experience this grace, because His words are life. They are the sword that can cut away all evil, and the very thing that is light and gives light. Take the time to read the Scriptures and delight in them, because God meets you in them, and He delights in you.

Christ gave us His very self, and what will we give Him in return? I hope we will offer Him our very selves, over and over again. That’s what we can do every time we read the Scriptures: “God, I offer you myself again.  Let me be that vessel You fill up.”

Our scheduled time for sacred reading is from 5:40-6:40 am, but we are encouraged to revisit the Scriptures throughout the day in order to be continually nourished by the Word.

…my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst…and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.

John 6:32-38, abridged