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.
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.
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.”
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.