Swimming in Mercy

A reflection by our Abbess, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

In the book of Ezekiel, we hear about the “wonderful stream” that is shown to Ezekiel by an angel, which gets measured out several times and keeps getting deeper and deeper, until Ezekiel can no longer cross it because he would have to swim (Ezekiel 47:3-5).  We then hear how the river empties into the salt waters of the sea, which it makes fresh (Ezekiel 47:8), and that the source of these waters is none other than the sanctuary itself (Ezekiel 47:12).  This image reminds me of the line in the hymn we sing on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception: “Sinners, we honor thy sinless perfection/Fallen and weak, for thy pity we plead/Grant us the shield of thy sovereign protection/Measure thine aid by the depth of our need.”  Measure thine aid by the depth of our need.  Isn’t that the picture we get in Ezekiel?  The depth of sin in the world seems to grow greater and greater, but God’s mercy cannot be outdone.  If we ask, He will teach us to swim—in His mercy.  He will never abandon us.  Ever.  We can count on His mercy when we cry out, truly, from the depth of our being.  He will save us. 

The depth of our sin is never too great for Him.  After Christ’s passion and death on the cross, when a lance was thrust into His side and “blood and water flowed out” (John 19:34), the floodgates of mercy were opened.  And His mercy continues to pour out onto the earth, and it is ours for the taking.  But it is a choice to put out our arms to mercy, which is not always easy to do, because it requires so much humility to admit that we need it.  But if we think of ourselves as little children, crying, “Pick me up!  Save me!” because we can’t get over the chasm on our own, then we are among those souls who are open and ready to receive His mercy.  As we approach the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, may we all ask for this gift as little children, confident in the love of our Father, and His desire to forgive our every fault, and to carry us in His arms, very close to His tender heart.

Public Domain icon of Jesus saving St. Peter from downing
[Flickr / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license]

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

The First Day of Ordinary Time

A reflection by our Abbess, Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

Happy first day of Ordinary Time!  (Ordinary Time comes from the Latin word “ordinalis,” meaning, “numbered,” and constitutes the period of the Church’s liturgical year which falls outside the two great seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.  The first day of Ordinary Time in 2024 was January 9.) 

Today, the First Tuesday in Ordinary Time, the first Mass reading is about Hannah and Samuel, and Hannah’s sorrow over not having any children.  When she goes into the Temple to pray for a child, Eli the priest calls her drunk, but do you think she pays any attention to that?  Absolutely not!  She simply explains to him that she is not drunk, but in a great deal of sorrow.  When we are in pain, and acting out a little bit, we know what’s really going on and why we are hurting.  So if anyone says something contrary, we don’t need to get worked up about it.  We know what is going on within us, and what we need to address.  That is why self-knowledge is so important, and living in the truth.  Live in what is real, because if you can do that, nothing is going to bother you.  You can pour it out before the Lord, and bring it to Him simply, as Hannah did (cf. 1 Samuel 1:9-20).  She abandoned her situation into the hands of the Lord, and was completely at peace.  And we can remember that in community life, when things are not going exactly as we planned, or we experience some jealousy or rivalry, we should give it over to the Lord.  Acknowledge what is really going on, what is hurting you, but then put it into His hands.  To live this way is to live for Christ.  When you can value His opinion more than anyone else’s, and count all the little hurts as nothing in comparison to pleasing Him, then you are truly living for Him.  And living for Him is the greatest thing you can do. 

In the Gospel for Mass today, we hear about Jesus entering the synagogue where there was a man with a bad spirit.  Christ never condemns the person, but He says to the demon, “Quiet!  Come out of him!” (Mark 1:25).  I love that.  It teaches you what to do when you find something in yourself that is not of God – anger, jealousy, etc.  Why don’t you just turn to that spirit and say, “Get out of me!  I don’t want you – you’re not my company.”  You do have authority to do that.  And you should, you should fight it head on.  Be straightforward about it, and count on the Lord to join you in your fight.  He Himself will say, “Get out of her!  Leave her alone!”  But you have to acknowledge it, and you have to want it to be gone.  Do this, and you will see how much freer you are.  

In transitioning from Christmastide to Ordinary Time, we take down all our Christmas decorations except for the trees in our chapel, which we leave up until February 2 (The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple).

Holy Jealousy

A reflection on the first reading from the Office of Readings for the second Tuesday of Easter (Revelation 2:1-11) by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

The Book of Revelation has a wonderful word for us today. St. John addresses the churches at Ephesus and Smyrna, so his message is in one sense for a particular time, and yet it also contains a window to eternity. He poetically writes:

…the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven lampstands of gold has this to say, ‘I know your deeds and your labors and your patient endurance. I know you cannot tolerate wicked men. You have tested those self-styled apostles who are nothing of the sort and discovered that they are imposters. You are patient and endure hardships for my cause. Moreover you do not become discouraged. I hold this against you, though. You have turned aside from your early love. Keep in mind the heights from which you have fallen. Repent and return to your former deeds.’

Revelation 2:1-5

What I love about this admonition is that it tells us what is important to God. What is so important is that we keep returning to Him. Sometimes turning aside just means you are looking the other way, but He is a jealous God, and He wants to mean so much to us that we can’t keep our eyes off Him. He desires that we so trust Him. Christ wants to brush away anything in our hearts that might impede us from looking at Him. It’s as if He says, “Whatever it is, bring it to me. I don’t want anything to impede us. Remember that I’m all powerful…I have the power to forgive. I have the power to raise you up. I have the power to do all things for you. I only ask one thing: love Me first. Let Me be your first glance. Let Me have everything in you. And trust Me, I’ll take care of the rest.” Now that’s love. And it is such a treasure for Him when we are no longer afraid to bring Him everything that is troubling us, everything that is embarrassing, and believe that He is just so pleased to find that we trust Him. That’s what means so much to God—that we trust Him. To think that one can be perfect and not need God is really an abomination. That hurts Him more than anything. When we are real and honest we know that we need Him, and this is our great joy.

Photograph of the Big Dipper taken from the Abbey’s upper deck. The Big Dipper is part of the constellation Ursa Major, “The Greater Bear.”
“He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads upon the back of the sea.
He made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south;
He does things great and unsearchable,
things marvelous and innumerable.”
(Job 9:8-10)