Becoming Prayer

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

The Sisters bow in reverence during the Divine Office in the chapel. Ideally, we learn to take this reverence and apply it to honoring God in every person and every created thing.

“The clear implication is that, even in our busiest and most engrossing moments, we will never be altogether forgetful of God’s goodness. In fact, the reality of the divine presence will be a kind of constant distraction so that we will occasionally smile, without apparent cause, as people are accustomed to do when they are in love.”

Demetrius Dumm, OSB, Cherish Christ Above All

We know that St. Benedict says in the Rule that one of the signs of a vocation is if the person seeks God.  That’s such an important part of our lives—that we never stop seeking Him.  In the Psalms it says, “Look to the Lord in his Strength, constantly seek His face” (Psalm 105:4).  I think sometimes we have to remember that prayer isn’t just when we’re in the Chapel.  Prayer is being in the presence of God.  That’s something we learn to carry throughout our day.  We learn to be in His presence in the Chapel, and then we love it so much, we desire to become being in His presence.  At the end of our lives, we are to become prayer.  That is our goal: that prayer never leaves us.  As Benedictines, we don’t separate the Work of God (the prayer of the Divine Office) from the rest of our lives.  We take it and we live it continually, wherever we go, whatever we do.  We never stop being the prayer.  And I would say that is the challenge of our day.  To become prayer means that we never ever cease having God in our hearts, on our minds, and on our lips.  But that’s something you grow into.  It takes a lifetime.  I think that’s the beauty of life, that you grow into being fully who you were created to be.  Your life will be holy and beautiful if you allow God to be the center of it. 

In the same Psalm we hear, “Glory in His Holy Name! Rejoice, O hearts, that seek the Lord!” (Psalm 105:3).  There should be a spiritual joy about us.  In spite of whatever is going on, the only things that are really important are those things that are Eternal.  All the rest?  It will vanish, and it won’t mean anything.  But everything that we do that has Eternity attached to it, we need to pay attention to. 

One of the things we have to pay attention to is compassion.  You learn compassion from being with others.  That’s why being in community is so important; you learn to love even those who don’t love you.  But what a gift!  It teaches you truly to love.  Don’t count it amiss when you have trouble with others.  Don’t count it amiss when you have to work a little harder.  Count it a gift.  It will teach you to love with the love of God.  Be sorry for those who never have that chance.  It’s so important to be tried.  It is so important in the monastic life that we work hard to be better than we could ever be alone.  I’m finding that more and more, as I get older, you become more compassionate because you’ve had to struggle through many things.  You also have moments when you realize your mistakes and say, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that!”  These experiences teach us to have compassion on others who are in the same situation we were in.  In these cases, how could you not care?

Causes for Rejoicing

Between battling the weeds, caring for the cattle, and tending the gardens, summer tends to be a busy season for us; but because of our monastic horarium that provides sacred time for prayer, the balance of “ora et labora” keeps our priorities in check.

The Blessing of Misery

A reflection on the first Mass reading for the first Tuesday in Ordinary Time (1 Samuel 1:9-20) by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

In the beautiful story about Hannah, we hear that “in her bitterness she prayed to the Lord, weeping copiously” (1 Sam 1:10). St. Benedict also says that we should weep in our prayer. This weeping happens when we allow something to touch us deeply. Now think of how Hannah could even be grateful for Peninnah (who rubbed Hannah’s barrenness in her face) because she brought her to a deeper prayer. In her bitterness Hannah did not turn away from God; she turned toward God.

We all have our moments of bitterness, of pain, and of sorrow, but the important part is what we do with them. These moments can be the greatest graces in our lives. They can be the things that push us in the right direction. So God allows them. He says, “Yes, this is actually going to be for your good…”

When we hear Hannah saying later in her prayer, “if you remember me, and do not forget me,” we seem to hear her greatest sorrow—that God has forgotten her. It seems that He has remembered Peninnah over and over again, since she had many children, and which seems to prove to Hannah that God has forgotten her. She is noticed by Eli, the temple priest, praying in an unknown way, and Eli judges her. He assumes that she’s drunk, but he takes it back after she explains her situation. Thank God for her humility. She didn’t mind being humble and telling him that she is just a very unhappy woman. She doesn’t lash out at him, she doesn’t scream at him or push him down. Instead she tells him that her prayer is prompted by her deep sorrow and misery.

I think it is simply because of the Lord’s great love for us that He allows us such sorrows. He just wants us to come to Him. And if we won’t come to Him simply, it seems He will allow greater things to happen that will force us to come to Him—because what He really wants is that relationship. So whatever will bring that about, God allows. And He can use any means. Harsh words or the feeling of being judged or unaccepted, God will use for our good. So instead of being upset, we should thank Him. Thank Him that He allowed that thing to happen because it leads us to a greater good, to Him. And then it changes how we see it; instead of being a point sorrow it becomes a point of joy.

Remember that evil only wants to take from God what He loves. So whatever can take you away from prayer, however little it may be, will be used by evil. At the same time, though, anything that brings us back to God is a tool for good. That’s a hard lesson to learn, because we usually want to blame somebody for our sorrows. Blaming someone else so much easier than acknowledging that we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing, or we weren’t reaching deeper into God. We look for someone else to blame so that we aren’t blamed. The minute we can start changing that, we’ve changed our lives—we’ve changed our attitude. What a blessing. And so it was with Hannah.  Eli blesses her, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” Let’s wish that for one another. Let’s give that blessing. Go in peace, and may the God if Israel grant you what you have asked of Him. That is my prayer for you today.

On Contemplative Prayer

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

“Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2715)

The contemplative life is so promoted by the Church because it is the heart of the Church. This is also the reason evil would like to get rid of the contemplative life— It’s what keeps the heart beating. It’s what keeps the flow of blood, of life, the precious Blood of Christ, flowing through the Body of Christ. He has chosen us to live in a contemplative spirit and in a contemplative environment. We are in the monastery not because we are holy but because we want to get there. And we live a life in which we have times together to learn to pray and live in the presence of God so that our eyes do not swerve away from Him. You can live that way at all times. Of course you need to pay attention to your work, but as St. Benedict says in the Prologue of the Holy Rule, “every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” He is the only one who can make it perfect. And “perfect” means the spirit in which you give it. Even if it is a failure in one way, if you give it fully, it is no failure in the eyes of God. In Chapter 7:27 of the Rule we hear, “…At all times the Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see whether any understand and seek God.” There you see the purpose of it all. Do we understand? Do we want to understand? Are we seeking God in all things? “And if every day the angels assigned to us report our deeds to the Lord day and night, then, brothers, we must be vigilant every hour” (Holy Rule, Ch. 7, v. 28). That is the key: vigilance. We must be vigilant in prayer.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a beautiful chapter on contemplative prayer. It says, “The choice of the time and duration of the prayer rises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials or dryness one may encounter” (CCC, 2710). This is known by all of those who have faith and live for God. There are times of dryness when we are tempted to ignore what we are called to, but it is only a temptation. In order to follow through, we have set times of prayer, because that’s what it takes—determination. We remember that no matter how we are, God loves us. He loves us immensely. He longs for us more than we could ever long for him. He waits for us. To come in dryness is to stand by him in the time of trial. It is so powerful. To belong to him when it is most difficult is to stand by him on the cross.

What really matters, and we need to pray for this grace, is that we grow in holiness. Don’t be afraid to ask where you need do better. Don’t be afraid, but face that question head on, so that you can become holy. We have to strive for it. And God loves to lift us up from our sinfulness; so be assured that it is greater for him when we need his passion and death. Use it. Call up on it. God expects this. He hasn’t called us to something he can’t give to us, but we need to ask. Life is short, and at any moment he can bring us to holiness. He can bring us from the very depths to the heights in just one second of desire. That’s all it takes. God is so great, greater than anything. Call upon him. He wills it.

Drawing of a nun at prayer by our Sister Maria-Placida, OSB

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.