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:In Praise of the Virgin Mother by St. Bernard (Hom. 4, 8-9: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 , 53-54)
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.