Lent 2024: Restoring Reverence and Gratitude

A reflection by our Abbess, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB, given to the nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga in preparation for Lent

The 40 days of Lent are such a wonderful gift that we give to God because we love Him.  Rather than being a big burden, Lent is really a joyful time, a time to look forward to and get excited about.  It’s a time to give to God in a very special way, and we do it in union with the whole Church – It’s so much bigger than just us.  This Lent, let us focus on amending the things we do which harm relationships, because unity is a very serious thing to God, who prays “that they may be one, as we are one,” (cf. John 17:22).  As you prepare your Lenten resolutions, ask, “How can I improve?”  Specifically, let’s consider how we can grow in the areas of reverence and gratitude.

Reverence seems to be a lost art, which I think Benedictines are truly called to bring back.  St. Benedict expects reverence from us: reverence for God, reverence for one another, and reverence for the abbot/abbess/those in authority.  I don’t think we learn this very well in our society today.  Rather than treating all people with dignity and respect, there is this idea that anyone can say anything they want to anyone they want, and just lay it all out there, and there is little consideration of those in authority.  What people don’t understand regarding authority is that it’s the office that is respected.  Even if we don’t respect the person, we treat them with respect because of the office they hold.?Whether we agree with a person in authority or not, it is not our place to tear them down and speak disparagingly of him.  Listening is an important part of respecting one another.  You have to put yourself aside and recognize Christ in another, even if you go blind because you’ve strained your eyes so much trying to do it. 

Keeping our rooms in good order is also a part of reverence.  We hear Christ tell His disciples to “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).  One such deserted place should be our cells (the monastic term for “bedrooms”).  Our cells should be “deserted” in the sense that they are free from clutter, so that we are truly able to rest in them.  We should be able to sit down and rest a while – and notice that it doesn’t say to stay there all day, but just a while.  This coming Lent we should really take care to get rid of the things we don’t need, so that we are able to come into our cells and sit down and be quiet and know the Lord’s presence there.  If we come in and we just ask to be in God’s presence, the walls of our rooms will pick up that peace.  It will be as if “The Peace of Christ” is written on your walls.  And think about the pictures/artwork you have on your walls, and that they too will reflect on you – Do they foster the sense of God’s presence?  I truly hope that they do.

Another thing to think about this Lent is gratitude.  Try to rejoice and love the gifts of God.  I don’t think God wants us to walk around like Eeyore all day, saying, “Oh poor us” or “Don’t be too happy.”  We belong to God – there is every reason to be joyful!  Don’t be afraid to express joy.  Don’t be afraid to be happy.  I know sometimes people are afraid to be happy because they’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop, and so they’re afraid to rejoice.  But if we take everything from the hand of God, then it won’t matter.  We will accept with gratitude whatever it may be, because we know the Lord, and we trust the Lord, and we are not afraid of anything, because we have put everything into His hands. 

A cross visible from the Abbey of St. Walburga guest courtyard and cloister courtyard, after a big snow on February 4

Lamentations Audio

Our community hold the tradition of anticipating Easter by praying Jeremiah’s Lamentations during the Divine Office on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday every year. Our custom is to appoint a different Sister to sing these in Latin during Matins. Beginning with the most junior nun assigned to sing, and ending with our Abbess, Mother Maria-Michael, this video highlights a short segment from each of the nine Lamentations passages we use.

Below is the full text of these moving scriptures:

Lamentations 1:1-5

How solitary sits the city,
once filled with people.
She who was great among the nations
is now like a widow.
Once a princess among the provinces,
now a toiling slave.

She weeps incessantly in the night,
her cheeks damp with tears.
She has no one to comfort her
from all her lovers;
Her friends have all betrayed her,
and become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile,
after oppression and harsh labor;
She dwells among the nations,
yet finds no rest:
All her pursuers overtake her
in the narrow straits.

The roads to Zion mourn,
empty of pilgrims to her feasts.
All her gateways are desolate,
her priests groan,
Her young women grieve;
her lot is bitter.

Her foes have come out on top,
her enemies are secure;
Because the LORD has afflicted her
for her many rebellions.
Her children have gone away,
captive before the foe.

(Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord your God)

Lamentations 1:6-9

From daughter Zion has gone
all her glory:
Her princes have become like rams
that find no pasture.
They have gone off exhausted
before their pursuers.

Jerusalem remembers
in days of wretched homelessness,
All the precious things she once had
in days gone by.
But when her people fell into the hands of the foe,
and she had no help,
Her foes looked on and laughed
at her collapse.

Jerusalem has sinned grievously,
therefore she has become a mockery;
Those who honored her now demean her,
for they saw her nakedness;
She herself groans out loud,
and turns away.

Her uncleanness is on her skirt;
she has no thought of her future.
Her downfall is astonishing,
with no one to comfort her.
“Look, O LORD, at my misery;
how the enemy triumphs!”

(Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord your God)

Lamentations 1:10-14

The foe stretched out his hands
to all her precious things;
She has seen the nations
enter her sanctuary,
Those you forbade to come
into your assembly.

All her people groan,
searching for bread;
They give their precious things for food,
to retain the breath of life.
“Look, O LORD, and pay attention
to how I have been demeaned!

Come, all who pass by the way,
pay attention and see:
Is there any pain like my pain,
which has been ruthlessly inflicted upon me,
With which the LORD has tormented me
on the day of his blazing wrath?

From on high he hurled fire down
into my very bones;
He spread out a net for my feet,
and turned me back.
He has left me desolate,
in misery all day long.

The yoke of my rebellions is bound together,
fastened by his hand.
His yoke is upon my neck;
he has made my strength fail.
The Lord has delivered me into the grip
of those I cannot resist.

(Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord your God)

Lamentations 2:8-11

The LORD was bent on destroying
the wall of daughter Zion:
He stretched out the measuring line;
did not hesitate to devour,
Brought grief on rampart and wall
till both succumbed.

Her gates sank into the ground;
he smashed her bars to bits.
Her king and her princes are among the nations;
instruction is wanting,
Even her prophets do not obtain
any vision from the LORD.

The elders of daughter Zion
sit silently on the ground;
They cast dust on their heads
and dress in sackcloth;
The young women of Jerusalem
bow their heads to the ground.

My eyes are spent with tears,
my stomach churns;
My bile is poured out on the ground
at the brokenness of the daughter of my people,
As children and infants collapse
in the streets of the town.

(Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord your God)

Lamentations 2:12-15

They cry out to their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”
As they faint away like the wounded
in the streets of the city,
As their life is poured out
in their mothers’ arms.

To what can I compare you—to what can I liken you—
O daughter Jerusalem?
What example can I give in order to comfort you,
virgin daughter Zion?
For your breach is vast as the sea;
who could heal you?

Your prophets provided you visions
of whitewashed illusion;
They did not lay bare your guilt,
in order to restore your fortunes;
They saw for you only oracles
of empty deceit.

All who pass by on the road,
clap their hands at you;
They hiss and wag their heads
over daughter Jerusalem:
“Is this the city they used to call
perfect in beauty and joy of all the earth?”

(Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord your God)

Lamentations 3:1-9

I am one who has known affliction
under the rod of God’s anger,
One whom he has driven and forced to walk
in darkness, not in light;
Against me alone he turns his hand—
again and again all day long.
He has worn away my flesh and my skin,
he has broken my bones;
He has besieged me all around
with poverty and hardship;
He has left me to dwell in dark places
like those long dead.
He has hemmed me in with no escape,
weighed me down with chains;
Even when I cry for help,
he stops my prayer;
He has hemmed in my ways with fitted stones,
and made my paths crooked.

(Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord your God)

Lamentations 3:22-30

The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted,
his compassion is not spent;
They are renewed each morning—
great is your faithfulness!
The LORD is my portion, I tell myself,
therefore I will hope in him.
The LORD is good to those who trust in him,
to the one that seeks him;
It is good to hope in silence
for the LORD’s deliverance.
It is good for a person, when young,
to bear the yoke,
To sit alone and in silence,
when its weight lies heavy,
To put one’s mouth in the dust—
there may yet be hope—
To offer one’s cheek to be struck,
to be filled with disgrace.

(Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord your God)

Lamentations 4:1-6

How the gold has lost its luster,
the noble metal changed;
Jewels lie scattered
at the corner of every street.

And Zion’s precious children,
worth their weight in gold—
How they are treated like clay jugs,
the work of any potter!

Even jackals offer their breasts
to nurse their young;
But the daughter of my people is as cruel
as the ostrich in the wilderness.

The tongue of the infant cleaves
to the roof of its mouth in thirst;
Children beg for bread,
but no one gives them a piece.

Those who feasted on delicacies
are abandoned in the streets;
Those who reclined on crimson
now embrace dung heaps.

The punishment of the daughter of my people
surpassed the penalty of Sodom,
Which was overthrown in an instant
with no hand laid on it.

(Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord your God)

Lamentations 5:1-11

Remember, LORD, what has happened to us,
pay attention, and see our disgrace:
Our heritage is turned over to strangers,
our homes, to foreigners.
We have become orphans, without fathers;
our mothers are like widows.
We pay money to drink our own water,
our own wood comes at a price.
With a yoke on our necks, we are driven;
we are worn out, but allowed no rest.
We extended a hand to Egypt and Assyria,
to satisfy our need of bread.
Our ancestors, who sinned, are no more;
but now we bear their guilt.
Servants rule over us,
with no one to tear us from their hands.
We risk our lives just to get bread,
exposed to the desert heat;
Our skin heats up like an oven,
from the searing blasts of famine.
Women are raped in Zion,
young women in the cities of Judah…

(Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord your God)


Lenten Retreat Registration

Life’s journey can be full of distractions and diversions. Come to a day of recollection to find the meaning of Lenten observance and restore your vision of Christ for Easter.

Sister Maria Josepha, OSB

The Abbey of St. Walburga will be hosting two Lenten retreat days:
March 10 and March 29 from 9:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Two conferences will be given by one of the nuns on the topic of “Returning to Christ”.

Participants are welcome to join the nuns for midday prayers (the Divine Office).

A light lunch will be provided, or you are welcome to bring your own food (refrigerators and microwaves will be available).

The cost is $35 per person.

Registration is required. Please email our Guest Mistress at aswretreats@gmail.com
or call (970) 472-0612 to make a reservation.


True Fasting

A reflection on Lenten fasting by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

Bowl of ashes we used on Ash Wednesday

“See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. See, you fast only to quarrel and fight, and to strike with a wicked fist!… Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own?”

Isaiah 58:3-8

There are so many ways we can apply this reading from Isaiah to our lives. Here are just a few examples that came to my mind as I was thinking about this idea of holy fasting:

Releasing those bound unjustly. This can be anyone you judge in your heart and are holding a grudge against. There’s one to release!

Untying the thongs of the yoke and setting free the oppressed. There are many behaviors by which we can yoke each other. Emotional behaviors that harm others or leave them feeling oppressed can be lifted. We’ve all been guilty of that passive aggressive attitude where we’re angry and we want someone to know it—without saying a word we are loud and clear. Do we really need to do that? Over time we learn that we are called to bear the yoke ourselves and not place it on another. We can bear a little bit for one another. Don’t I love you enough to bear a little more? That’s really what strengthens the heart and the soul—being able to bear the brunt for another, because you can be assured that others are bearing the brunt for you too. 

Sharing your bread with the hungry. Your good word can truly feed another, in person or through prayer.

Sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked. Don’t stare at the weaknesses of others and then tell them about it. Rather, clothe them with prayer and with your good will for them.

And don’t turn your back on your own. Help your neighbor; and I don’t mean only your neighbor. I knew a family who used to be so eager and ready to help their neighbors—mowing their lawn, weeding their yard—while the weeds in their own yard were six feet tall. So you can always look around your own house for little ways to help and serve your own, too. Let us strive to be a blessing for one another.