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)

Seek the Face of God

On May 3, 2017, we welcomed Sr. Anna as a novice in our community as she was given the habit of our Order.  Below is an excerpt from the reflection given to the Sr Anna and the Community on the vigil of her clothing.

In the scriptures for tomorrow’s feast, we hear, “Jesus said to Thomas, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, then you will also know my Father.  From now on you do know me and have seen me.  Philip said to him, ‘Master, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long and you still do not know me Philip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’”  It is that seeking of God that is so powerful throughout our entire life.  But one must truly seek God especially in the novitiate because that’s a very telling time.  It’s a time when choices are made.  It’s a building of a foundation for a life dedicated to God in which we sing the praises of God day by day and through signing those praises, we seek the face of God.  We must seek him.

We seek him steadfastly.  And when you wear the habit, you’re wearing your ‘yes’ to the life.  Every morning, we put on our habit, we are saying yes to the monastic life.  We are saying we will do this again.  And what do we do?  We go out and sing the praises of God.  So you know where your strength comes from.  It comes from singing the praises of God.  No matter what we do, what is going on, we sing the praises of God.  We seek His face the very first thing in the morning.

You are taking the steps of a life embedded and dedicated to God.  In this life, we leave everything behind and are embraced by the face we seek.

Welcoming a New Novice

Our community welcomed our second new novice of the year on April 17, 2016, the Feast of the Good Shepherd.  Sr. Brandi-Lynn McWhorter was clothed in the Benedictine habit during our Lauds prayer service.  Below is a reflection given by Mother Maria-Michael for the occasion of her clothing.Brandi Clothing-5

In the prayer for the blessing of the Habit we hear, “O God, in Your fidelity You promise us eternal goods and You always fulfill your promises, we ask you to bless this religious habit by which your handmaid who will wear it desires to express her readiness to serve you with undivided devotion.”

The key is desire.  When  a novice receives the habit, she is questioned, “What do you ask?” In asking this, the abbess is also asking, what is your desire in prostrating yourself before the altar of the Lord?  What is your desire as you hold out your hands to receive what isn’t yours?  Every morning when we arise and put on the habit – we have to remember that it was through desire that we answered those questions.

The novice is also asked, “Are you willing to seek God in this community and test [and I mean test!] your vocation to the monastic life?”  This is the time of testing – much will be expected of you.  In Chapter 58 of the Rule of St Benedict, on the reception of brothers into the monastery, it says, “Let a senior who has the ability to win over souls be appointed to watch over him merrily and carefully, to discover whether he truly seeks God and is eager for the Work of God, for obedience and for obtaining humility.”  The rigor and austerity that we use in our journey to God should be laid before him.  It isn’t an easy life.  The only way to live it is to live it fully – with desire. Brandi Clothing-6

A novice is taken through the valley of Humility.  It is rich, beautiful and mortifying.  It is a tough place to be but it is the richest.  There will be the cliffs of Obedience.  There are going to be cliff-hangers but those are ones that will climb to the heights.  There are the silent streams that flow strong and to drink one must be silent.  We take times of silence to drink deeply of Christ.  That relationship is the only thing that ties us strongly to the monastic life.  Know the voice of the Good Shepherd.  Know it well.  You must be able to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd because so often when we pray and ask God to speak to us, He speaks through our superiors.   We have to be able to recognize His voice speaking to us through our Abbess.


“My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.  No one can take them out of my hand.  My father who has given them to me, is greater than all and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.” Brandi Clothing-9

New Novice Preparing for the Wedding Feast

On February 2, 2016, the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, we welcomed a new novice into our community.  Sr. Catherine-Marie Carlin , having completed her first year of probation at our Abbey was clothed in the Benedictine habit during our Lauds prayer service.  Below is a reflection given by Mother Maria Michael on the occasion of her clothing.

On the Feast of the Presentation, Christ is brought to the temple for his consecration.  Two young doves are brought as a sacrifice.  Every life that is consecrated to God requires sacrifice.  One of the greatest sacrifices we can give is our love.  For one who is celibate, the love that we receive from others is not to be taken for ourselves.  The love we receive is for Christ.  Everything that comes to us belongs to Him.   We give Him everything.

Catherine Marie prostrates before the altar as the community sings

the Veni Sancte Spiritu.

It is fitting that on a clothing day, we will sing the antiphon that says, “Sion, prepare your wedding chamber to receive Christ the King.”  The novitiate is a time of probation, of preparation, for a wedding that is everlasting.   The postulant will be presented with the question, “What do you ask?”  We all must remember that we asked to be a part of this community.  We asked to wear the habit of the Abbey of St. Walburga.  We asked to be stripped of ourselves.
St. Benedict says it so simply, “Let him therefore presently, in the oratory, be stripped of his own garments and be clothed in those of the monastery.”  What does it mean?  It means to be stripped of everything that speaks of our self.   We strip ourselves of ourselves in order to find ourselves in the center of Christ.  The habit expresses the desire and readiness of the religious to serve her King with undivided devotion.  When someone sees the habit there is no question of who you belong to.

Catherine Marie receives the habit from Mother Maria-Michael

The belt of the habit is put on the novice, she does not put it on herself.  It is to remind her of the chains of Jesus Christ.  How many times will we be in a situation we are not in control of?  It is like a chain which can hurt– but it only hurts our pride.  It is also called the cincture of obedience because it holds together our desire to belong to Him.  Without obedience our desire will mean nothing.

The veil is a sign of religious state where one is blessed, spotless, holy, and to be recognized as consecrated to God.  How important it is for us to live with that recognition – we are consecrated to God, set aside from society for Him.  We have to be faithful to that recognition.
At the end of the clothing ceremony, I will say this prayer: “O God you called us to turn away from the vanities of the world, its desires, cares and ambitions.”  This is not a life of ambition.  This is a life in which we are called to holiness; and it is a labor of love.

Sr. Catherine Marie with Mother Maria Michael.