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.

Laying Down One’s Life

cross-on-yellow-sky-editedIn the scriptures for today we hear about life and what it means to have life. In Deuteronomy we are told to

“Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”  (Deut. 30: 19-20)

Then in Luke,

“Then [Jesus] said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”  (Luke 9:23-24)

Christ is the center in all of this – the choosing of Him over all things.  You often hear people say when speaking of following a religious vocation, “I don’t want to do that.  I have a life!”  What do they gain?  What do they get out of that life?  But when we say, “I am going to give up everything.  I am going to give my life for Him”, then we get eternal life.  We give up a drop to gain eternity!

In Chapter Five of the Holy Rule, on obedience, St. Benedict says, “The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all else. The Lord says of men like this, ‘no sooner did he hear did he obey me.”  Again he says, “Such people as these immediately put aside their own concerns, abandon their own will and lay down whatever they have in hand, leaving it unfinished.”   That is so hard but what a wonderful practice!

Do we do this?  When we hear the bell for the Divine Office do we set aside what we are doing, leaving it unfinished, in order to hasten to the Work of God?  Or when someone comes to use while we are working to ask something of us – do we set aside what we are doing in order to give them our full attention?  And, in turn, we should be sensitive to timing when we ask something of another.  That is charity.  If a sister is working in the kitchen – oven door open, food overflowing, steam everywhere – it probably isn’t a good time to ask a favor of her.

In charity, let us be attentive to the moment and be ready to stop what we are doing, in order to be fully present to one another.  Truly, that is laying down one’s life.

Reflection by Mother Maria Michael Newe, OSB on the Mass readings for March 2, 2017.

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

Reflecting on Monastic Life this Fall

A reflection by Mother Maria- Michael Newe, OSB.

Fall is such a reviving and reflective time of year.  It is also a time to look at our own monastic life to reflect on the fruits it may – or may not – be bearing in t
he community.  We reap the harvest of our life just as we reap the harvest each fall for our winter storage of food.

In The Way of Life, Abbot Dom Gabriel Braso writes:

“We touch here on what is, perhaps, the most serious and delicate problem for Abbots and Abbesses, to know how to maintain the firmness and clarity of principles without falling into an intransigent and inhuman concern for perfection.  To know how to remain understanding, discrete and liberal, while neither letting go of the tiller nor opening the monastery doors to laxity.  In chapter 64, St. Benedict seeks to give the Abbot rightful measure of this prudent equilibrium: ‘He must hate faults but love the brothers.’  [St. Benedict] tries to explain further what it means, ‘ By this we do not mean that he should allow faults to flourish but rather he should prune them away with prudence and love as he sees best for each individual.’”

It is important for people to hear of the concerns of an Abbot or Abbess.  We really do care about how the life is lived without breaking the monks, without causing the monks to be stripped so they have no movement, and yet without letting them be so liberal that they forget where the lines of the Rule are.

It is also important to remember that we do not hate anybody.  Every person is a child of God.  Every one bears the image of Christ.  But the Abbess needs to help those under her to recognize where they need to bear His image more, where have they have lost that image in their lives.  She also needs to remind them of the virtues of a monk.  What makes a monk different?  What makes us pursue the life we are living?  Are we looking for perfection or a place to nest and be comfortable?  Do we only do just enough to make it work?  I don’t think that is what St. Benedict would have wanted.  His way is a simply seeking the right way, the way of Christ, within the view of the Rule.

It is good for us here at the Abbey to examine how we live the Rule here in our community.  Could a guest walk in and say, “My goodness, they really are Benedictines to the core.  I walk these halls and I breathe the air of Benedictines.  I go the choir and am astounded at their reverence and love.  They all are one body singing for Christ.”  We need to ask ourselves: Do we serve one another as Christ?  Do we keep the tools and goods of the monastery as we would the sacred vessels of the altar?  Do we clean house so that Christ can be present in it?  This should be our reflection for the fall, not as a criticism or a shaking-a-finger at somebody, but as an act of love for the monastic life and for the community.   By doing this, we can better urge one another on to become an authentic alter- Christi.

The Power of a Blessing

A reflection on Genesis 32: 23-33 by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB
In this passage from Genesis we see Jacob battling, wrestling with an Angel.  We read in Genesis, “After he had taken them across the stream and had brought over all his possessions, Jacob was left there alone.”

There he was – alone.  Everything he had was on the other side.  The full story is that Jacob was returning home and was afraid of his brother, Esau.  He wasn’t sure if he was going to be killed!  He had sent thousands of gifts to Esau just to appease him.  So we don’t know everything that was happening or all that was said or felt, but Jacob understood that “the man” was something divine.

After they had been wrestling for some time, the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”  But what does Jacob say?  “I will not let you go until you bless me.”  He knew the power of a blessing.  He wasn’t going to let it go until he got it.  He suffered for it, too.  He was knocked in the hip and had to walk with a limp; but he was willing to fight that hard to get it.

I don’t know if, today, we take seriously the blessing that we get from God.  Or that we understand how powerful it is when we get the priest’s blessing.  When we get our parents blessing.  When we bless one another.  To know what that means!  To believe in the power of a blessing – do we take it in strongly enough that it can bear fruit?  Do we ask God to bless us?  Jacob knew the power and he wasn’t going to let it go.  He tangled with Heaven and won.  “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

Ask God for His blessing.  Take seriously the blessings we get.  Let them bear fruit within and give blessings!  Bless one another with a prayer, ask for a blessing and see how it bears fruit.

Suffer Willingly, Love Fully

Reflection on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

It’s a blessing to celebrate the Triumph of the Cross because it immerses us, once again, in the holiest days of the year – the Triduum.  In our daily lives, it is easy to get caught up in what needs to be done; this feast is a reminder to sit with the message of the Triduum.

Saint John Paul the Great knew suffering intimately.  In his apostolic letter on human suffering, he says,

“The Cross of Christ throws salvific light in a most penetrating way on man’s life and, in particular, on his suffering.  For through faith, the Cross reaches man together with the Resurrection.  The mystery of the Passion is contained in the Paschal Mystery.  The witnesses of Christ’s Passion are, at the same time, witnesses of His Resurrection.  St. Paul writes, ‘That I may know Him, Christ, and the power of His Resurrection and may share His sufferings becoming like Him in His death that if possible I may obtain resurrection from the dead.’”

In our own lives, we can learn to value suffering because it strengthens us.  The conviction we need to have in order to suffer gracefully is a conviction of love:  you only suffer willingly when you love fully.  Christ loved fully and He suffered willingly out of that love.

Willing to be Stretched

A reflection on the Feast of St. Laurence by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

On the Feast of St. Laurence, we should take a good look at the liturgy and reflect how we are all called – especially in the life of a monk – to be prepared for martyrdom.  For some, martyrdom comes as a final blow while for others it is a lifetime of suffering.  Every monk is a white martyr, because the Rule itself requires a dying – a constant dying to oneself.

In the chapter of the Rule on humility, the steps of the martyrdom of a monk are apparent: how we are to die to ourselves.  It is in the great role of service to others, putting aside our own needs and wants, to accept the humanity of one another that we die to ourselves.  We are not angels!  We may try but we are still human.  We cannot help but to fail here and there; and others will fail us here and there.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t holiness.  The holiness comes in the response.  What is the response we have in those situations?

They say that when Christ was put onto the Cross He didn’t quite fit.  So they had to pull His arms and legs, dislocate his shoulders, to nail Him so that He would stay in place.  Sometimes we think that we don’t quite fit; that doesn’t mean we don’t have the vocation.  It means we have to be willing to be stretched.  We have to be willing to be conformed to Christ in His most beautiful moments: the Agony in the Garden, changing His family to His disciples.  It must have hurt Him to pull away from His Mother – it must have cost Him.  So, too, it will cost us.

St. Benedict says,

“Accordingly brothers and sisters, if we want to reach the highest summit of humility, if we desire to attain speedily the exaltation in heaven to which we climb by the humility of this present life, then by our ascending actions we must set up that ladder on which Jacob, in a dream, saw angels descending and ascending.  Without doubt, this descent and ascent can only signify that we descend by exaltation and ascent by humility.”

What is most humbling in our own lives?  Sometimes it is simply to be the servant of others.  No matter where we stand in life, not counting our rank or position, but preferring to be the servant of others.  You want to be holy? Simply have a mind of being a servant.

The Cellarer, it says in the Rule, when goods are not available, is to offer a kind word because “a kind word is better than the best of gifts”.  Do you know how true this is?  Do you know what it costs not to give a word that hurts when you’ve been hurt?  Not to be snide but to be loving at all times?  To be encouraging when someone gets what you want?  That takes martyrdom.  It takes martyrdom to be a servant even when others think and treat you as such.  Be glad and rejoice that your reward may be great in heaven, for Christ did it before all of us and He lived it to the full. That is how we obtain holiness – the holiness that God has chosen for us.  It is in the life of Christ – Who died the servant of man.   He let Himself be stretched beyond what He could physically do.  We are not asked to do that, but we can come close if we simply become a servant to all, if we can keep silence when something hurts, if we can love those who don’t seem to love us.

Persuade the Heart of Christ

A reflection on Matthew 15: 21-28 by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

Through the scriptures we see that the power of women is their persuasion.  Think of all the instances throughout scripture that tell us of the persuasion – both good and bad – of women.  Eve did not persuade Adam to be good!

Why are women religious so valuable to the Church?  It is the prayer of persuasion.  Intercessory prayer is truly the prayer of persuasionWe see it in the Gospel with the Canaanite woman; she persuades Christ himself to do what he did not intend to do.  It was her words of confidence – nothing was going to put her off – because she was praying for her daughter, whom she loved.  When we pray with that same tenacity, and God hears our conversation, what could not be granted us?  We have the power to pray with Mary, that the world be converted and returned to the hands of God.  Why do you think evil fights the contemplative life?  It has the power to persuade God to save His people.

We have the power of prayer that is mighty.  When we go to prayer, when we pray together, we have the power to persuade God.  Speak that way!  Let our conversations reflect this.  When we speak confidently to God, we walk in the trail of Mary and honor our vocation as persuaders of God.  That is true intercessory prayer; and no prayer is small.  The greater the trust, the greater the answer.  Believe it in your heart and you will see your own persuasion over the Heart of Christ.

No Greater Service

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

Sr Aug and Sr MJIt seems to me that people who pursue God faithfully have their priorities straight.  Consider St. Paul: his priorities are quite straight.  For him, it is always Christ.  He does everything to serve the people.

Now being wayward people we are always fluctuating.  We will have some days when we are more fervent than others.  We will have times during which we may not be as Christian as we want to be.  But God always sends someone our way to encourage us; He believes in us.  There is nothing God wants more than to encourage us in the ways that we will fulfill, most perfectly, the image of Christ within us.  We should strive for that at all times, but don’t be surprised when things don’t go perfectly.  That is the lot of man.

In our constant pursuit of this image of Christ within, we will always be rearranging our priorities to keep God in the first place.   Prayer, too, must have its priority in our life.  All the rest will settle like the dust.

We carry responsibilities in community in the name of God.  That means when we pursue our responsibilities we also pursue God.  When we embrace what has been given to us to serve the community, whatever it may be – sweeping the hall, doing the dishes, serving the guests, feeding the cattle, pulling weeds – we do it in the name of God.  Only God knows the value of each one.  It has nothing to do with the work itself but everything to do with the intention.  Everything done well and for the glory of God has the highest value.  Our responsibilities may change over time but we must always be growing in the way in which we do them:  from the heart.  When we fulfill our responsibilities for the love of God we will be filled with peace and joy.

At the end of his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says, “Because I do not love you?  God knows, I do.” What a wonderful way to end everything!  “God knows, I do.”  Carry this with you in whatever you do.  Do it for love.  There is no greater service.   If we do everything out of love, we will shine with the glory of God and our priorities will be straight.

Console the Heart of Christ

A reflection for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB.
06_Cristo e la Vergine

The Collect for the Feast of the Sacred Heart reads:

O God, who in the Heart of Your Son wounded by our sins, bestow on us in mercy the boundless treasure of Your Love.  Grant, we pray, that in paying Him the homage of our devotion, we may also offer worthy reparation.

You do not hear that word very often – reparation.  Yet it is a necessary word.  We do have to make reparation for sin.  The best reparation we can possibly do, in life, is simply to be truly sorry for our sins, to decide I am not going to do that anymore, then to do some small means of penance.  It doesn’t have to be grand.  The real secret to reparation is love.  To do a small thing with great love is huge.  To do a great thing without love means absolutely nothing.

The most we can possibly do is to do all things with love.  To prefer nothing to the love of Christ (RB 4:21).  To respond with love.  If our thoughts are of love, then our actions will be of love.  It is no small thing to be devoted to the Sacred Heart of Christ.  We as brides of Christ have an even greater duty to love Him more.  To be willing to do more, to suffer more, to be willing to give the very best of ourselves with love, and not to count the cost.  That’s heroic.

Christ deserves our love.  We should do all that we can to console the Heart of Christ.  He mourns today for His Church and yet He rejoices in His Church.  There is a victory already begun and it begins with each one of us.  It begins with love, it ends with love, and it goes into eternity with love.  Love one another; that He may be one in us and we in Him.  To talk about it is really nothing; to live it is everything.  Live it… and we shall do it together.