I have been processing our experience of St. Walburga’s, and keep returning to the idea of peace and joy.  For the most part, the faces of the nuns were so calm and joyful.   They entered the church which is at the heart of their monastery without hurry, and they left the same way.  Much as we did in Catholic school, they line up to process in and out.   They face each other in the choir stalls on either side of the front of the church and sing the Office antiphonally.   And as the Rule states “if we wish to ask a favor of those who hold temporal power, we dare not do so except with humility and respect.  It is far more important that we present our pleas to God with the utmost humility and purity of devotion.”  (Chapter 20)  That devotion and humility were everywhere present. sisters-at-prayersisters-at-prayer-2

 

 To the right of the church, in a separate chair, sits the Abbess, identified by her crozier and large pectoral cross.  Either at the head of the flock, or behind, Mother Maria Michael shepherds her flock of nuns.  I cannot adequately describe the feeling that came over me to see her in that role.  She seems like a wonderful mother, and she has a most pleasant smile which she uses freely, not only with her daughters but also with the retreatants.  St. Benedict stated about the Abbot “To be qualified to govern a monastery an abbot should always remember what he is called (Abba = Father…In a monastery he is Christ’s representative, called by His name.”  (Chapter 2) 

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She is young and elected for life, until death or illness or the infirmities of age make it impossible for her to continue effectively.  In the prayers, she often leads, and when she sang the “Our Father” we knew she was singing for all of us. 

When we were studying Benedict’s Rule, we saw the considerable attention Benedict gave to the Abbot, for the Abbot, or in this case the Abbess, carries a heavy responsibility for the souls and wellbeing of his/her charges. 

Utmost care was taken to insure that the church was presentable for liturgies, even mopping up the flies which seemed to spontaneously generate and die by the dozens.  There were flowers lovingly arranged and placed around the altar, and all aspects of the liturgies were prepared in advance so as to present only the best to the Bridegroom.  There is so much we can learn about refinement in the things that matter from those who embrace this life.

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