Tuesday, August 30, 2016

One Sees Very Well From A Tower

The following, written to Poor Clare nuns about their life of enclosure, strikes me as applicable, also, to lives "enclosed in the will of God."

"There have been remarks for centuries past about people who dwell in ivory towers. We know what is meant when it is said in the way it is said. Exasperation. Condemnation. A certain contempt. That they are unaware of other persons.

I always thought that was a very strange figure of speech. For one thing, one sees very well from a tower, much better than when one is in the midst of a crowd. If you really want to see the needs of everyone, a tower would be a very good place to go for perspective.

And then I thought, 'ivory tower?' Well, what could give more joy to the poor who have so little than the sight of an ivory tower? How it would draw them! How it would make them surge toward it to investigate this beautiful thing.

So an ivory palace is a very beautiful place to dwell in - and that is your enclosure. Out of it must always come music, the music of Jesus. Then one is very pre-eminently doing God's work.

So always from your life of prayer, from the ivory palace of your enclosure, may God hear music, for from the heart of true payer comes stringed music to God and to the world. To all the grinding hatreds and frustrations of the world must come the stringed music of our enclosed life of prayer."

(Mother Mary Francis PCC, Walls Around the World, p. 22. Click here for information)

"From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad." (Psalm 45:9)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Cloistered Anytime. Even Now.

Among my re-discovered letters from friends, I found the following treasure. It was written by a woman who'd read the original The Cloistered Heart article when it was published in 1993, and now (twenty years later) was reflecting upon her own embrace of its ideals.

    "...I was drawn to the idea of a cloister in my heart. I longed for a place to retreat from the world, to be alone with Jesus. I not only longed for a place where I could escape the noise of life around me, but I also dreamed of providing a place in my heart where Jesus could find respite from this world.
    Visits to church or Eucharistic adoration were not an option for me at that time. The image of a cloister in my heart, a place for me and Jesus, was exactly what I needed. I could enter the cloister of my heart at any time or in any place.  It might sound foolish, even selfish, but at that time I lived such a busy, demanding and crowded life that I needed the hideaway. As time went on, it made perfect sense to me to adopt the image of the 'grille' to enclose my cloister and to protect it from the world.
    Is God 'saying' something to me about this now? I do believe He is. I think God is calling me back to my cloister. God has not abandoned me and I have not abandoned God. I am praying, but it feels so disorganized. I like organization in my home and in my life. I want my spiritual life to be organized too.
    So what am I doing to revitalize my cloistered heart? I am reading a prayer guide for active people, a back-to-basics kind of book. I am re-entering the cloister of my heart through the Eucharist and through prayer.
    I say my life is busy. It is, yet I am home alone quite a bit these days. So what is my excuse? I do this and I do that, but I am also guilty of squandering my time. A whole morning will get away from me before I realize I have done virtually nothing.
    I pray very well before I get out of bed in the morning. It is good prayer. It is spontaneous prayer. The same thing at night. I find it easy to 'talk' to Our Lord when all the world around me is dark and silent. I feel Jesus drawing me into His Sacred Heart. These are my best prayer times...
    When things happen around here, I want to get back to prayer as my FIRST recourse instead of prayer being an afterthought."

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Revisiting Keyholes

"When it’s God Who is speaking.. the proper way to behave is to imitate someone who has an irresistible curiosity and who listens at keyholes.  You must listen to everything God says at the keyhole of your heart."  (St. John Vianney)

Lectio Divina is so central to monastic life that I’ve often hesitated to write about it, for I am terribly aware of my inadequacies to explain.  But lectio itself is not about explanation.  It’s not about study, not about intellectual speculation.  Lectio is about listening and noticing and hearing and responding.  Lectio is about love.

Lectio Divina is reading of Sacred Scripture, but with a specific purpose.  That purpose is not to gain information, but to interact personally with God. To illustrate how this has operated in my own life, I’d like to share about a time when I prayed with Psalm 63….

Opening with a prayer that God would lead me, I began to read.  I spoke the first words directly to Our Lord:  “God, you are my God whom I seek.”  My practice is to read, slowly and prayerfully, until something particular grabs me.

Soon I was echoing words of the psalm, asking that my lips would glorify Him.  The next verse (5) had me telling God I would bless Him as long as I live.  I prayed for the grace to do just that:  for the grace to praise Him throughout that day and throughout my life…

That’s when I felt He “spoke” something to me.  This was not in words... it was simply a gentle sense of awareness that to bless Him as long as I live means that ... wow!!! ... I can bless Him forever!  Jesus has come and opened to me the doors of eternal life, so I can praise Him forever!

I told God this was the best thing I could imagine about eternal life.

I went on, awhile later, into prayer of intercession for several people who came to mind, asking that they be given grace to seek God and to bless Him forever.

The practice of praying with Scripture is central to monastic life. It is central to allowing God to lead His people to the graces of contemplative prayer.  It's not just for those in monasteries; it is also for you and for me.

I lean in closely to listen.... 

"Every day will I bless You, and I will praise Your Name forever and ever.  Great is the Lord and highly to be praised; His greatness is unsearchable.  Generation after generation praises Your works and proclaims Your might.”  (Psalm 146:2-4)

This is a slightly edited repost from our archives. It is linked to Reconciled to You  and Theology is a Verb for 'It's Worth Revisiting Wednesday.'

Friday, August 19, 2016

Am I Living in Denial?

Among my recently uncovered treasures from a friend, I found the following. It was written in 2000 and later edited a bit: 

I believe God is calling us to wake up and stop wasting any of the moments of His precious gift of life. We live in an anesthetized society, a society in deep denial of the fact that each of us was made to live according to the will of God.

All around us are people in a stupor, and we are affected by it - for how could we not be? Yet we are called to be like the saints gone before us: the ones who escaped from their societal denial and used their allotment of time for God.

As we enter a new millenium, we must walk in the footsteps of the saints. There is no more time to waste, no more time to walk with one foot in the world and one in the will of God. We must decide. 

A pretty serious call? You bet. If we're serious about following Christ, we are invited to follow in the footsteps of those who, in their own times, were not popular. Oh, the saints are admired now, when we read about them in books. They're well loved on days when we wear green and celebrate a bit of Irish blood in our veins. But the fact is, and we all know it, that the saints were never very popular in their own times. Why? Because they were those who worked to call their societies out of denial. 

As those who live in the world rather than in actual physical cloisters, we live in an atmosphere of denial. The great lie is that this earth and our time upon it is the only important thing, and that what we get out of life is all that really counts. 

How much of this have I bought into? 

What is the motivation behind the things I do with my minutes and hours?

Am I about loving God, serving others, working to increase the population of heaven?

Am I primarily pursuing my own comforts, interests, gains or status - perhaps telling myself that I'm not doing so even as I do so?

What is the focus of my life? 

If I knew that Our Lord was coming for me for me tomorrow, would this knowledge alter my activities today?

Perhaps it's time for me to talk with Christ about some of these things.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Revisiting the Hiding Place

I am appreciating more than ever the Refuge we have available to us in this torn, aching, wounded world.  If we don't realize that parts of our planet and our civilization are in great distress just now, we have been living under a rock.

Yet in the midst of troubling news, moral confusion, and input from a world going mad, we really do have a Rock to live in and on and under. Jesus is our Rock, our Refuge.  He is our Hiding Place, our fortress, our one true cloister.

I see the truth of this when I consider so many saints gone before us... martyrs who much preferred death to the possibility of turning away from Christ.  What grace they received - exactly when they needed it.  This gives me hope.

In Acts 16, for instance, we read of Paul and Silas thrown into jail after having been given many lashes.  Their feet were chained to a stake.  I can imagine myself there, whining and grumbling and feeling sorry for myself.   But were Paul and Silas wailing, angry, groaning?  No.  They were praying and singing hymns to God.

And consider St. Ignatius of Antioch, as he was on his way to be fed to lions.  "Leave me to the beasts," he wrote, "that through them I may be accounted worthy of God.  I am the wheat of God, and by the teeth of the beasts I shall be ground, so that I may be found the pure bread of God.  Greatly provoke the wild beasts so that they may be my grave and leave nothing of my body, so that I won't be a burden on anyone.  Then I will truly be a disciple of Jesus Christ."    

What grace!  The same grace that was given to St. Stephen as he was being stoned.   The same grace (we can believe it) that is offered to people undergoing persecution for Christ today. 

I see Stephen as a perfect patron for those of us who strive to view life "through the grille." If anyone ever saw and responded to circumstances in such a way,  it was he.  Even as his persecutors were preparing to kill him, he boldly exclaimed "'Look!... I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God's right hand."

I am sure this acute view of reality buffered the saint's agony as stones were hurled at him.  "As he was being stoned, he could be heard praying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'  He fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'"  (Acts 7:54, 59, 60) 

"The cloistered heart."  I wrote some years ago, "is the heart of David dancing before the ark; of Mesach, Shadrach and Abednego in the fiery furnace; of Paul in prison, Daniel in the lions’ den, John on Patmos, Peter in chains.  The world is not safe from evil – even the body isn’t safe from harm – but within the cloistered heart there is refuge.  The Lord is with me, He is within my cloister.  My heart, as long as He is in it, is safe." 

I must remember this.  In the madness all around, I must remember.

Within the cloistered heart there is refuge.  The Lord Himself is with me.

My heart, as long as He is in it, is safe.

This is a slightly edited repost from our archives. It is linked to Theology is a Verb and Reconciled to You for 'It's Worth Revisiting Wednesday.'

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

True Pilgrimage

'To live by the day and to watch each step is the true pilgrimage method, 
for there is nothing little if God requires it.'
Fulton J Sheen

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Friday, August 12, 2016

How Do I Pray Now? (As I Can, Not As I Did)

The last person we'll hear from about "praying now" was surprised to find that retirement was not what she'd envisioned.

    "My attention span is shorter than it was in my younger days. My youthful plans for later years included day-long-prayer-marathons, when I knew I would take time to just sit and be with God!
     Now I have the time that once eluded me, but I no longer have the powers of concentration. This realization has been sobering. However, I am helped by seeing that I'm not actually in 'dryness,' nor is it that I've lost interest in prayer, nor am I 'lazy' if I sit down and fall fast asleep. It's just that my body and my mind are not as young as they were even a few years ago.
     My call is to pray as I can, not as I did. The important thing, for me, is to set aside the time - whether in one solid chunk or in ten-minute segments throughout the day - with the firm intention to give that time to God. I am seeing anew the truth that the Lord is my strength. May He be praised forever!"


"It is better to say one Our Father fervently and devoutly than a thousand with no devotion and full of distraction."  (St. Edmund)

"Physical condition or advancing of age are not obstacles to a perfect life. God does not look at external things, but at the soul." (Pope St. John Paul II)

Painting: Carl Vilhelm Holsoe, in US public domain due to age

Thursday, August 11, 2016

How Do I Pray Now? (All I Have to Do is Respond)

From yet another friend:

     "In the past, I relied on Christian music and spiritual reading to help me pray. Often I took time for a walk or to sit in the back yard and be still. I learned not to answer the telephone every time it rang but to wait until it was convenient for me to do so.
     Discipline is very hard for me but slowly I am surprised by the new doors God is opening as a result of my efforts, which are beginning to bring peace and joy.
     I have also felt direction for a world situation that needs prayer.
     Now I'm back to Ralph Martin's book 'The Fulfillment of All Desire,' and for me it is huge. It is teaching, inspiring, and leading me to change my life.
     I have realized that God led me to my cloister. All I have to do is respond."    

"As soon as we wake up, turn to the Lord, thank Him for another day, dedicate it to Him and ask His help for living it in a way pleasing to Him. Take a substantial time for personal prayer (including spiritual reading) as early in the morning as feasible. Attend daily Mass as often as possible. As far as circumstances permit, pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Withdraw into the cell of our souls periodically during the day to remember the Lord, to be aware of His presence and speak to Him. We can do this even in the midst of activities." (Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, Emmaus Road Publishing, 2006. Emphasis mine!!)

Painting:  Peter Vilhelm Ilsted, in US public domain due to age

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How Do I Pray Now? (Sometimes With a Printed Prayer)

Whoever thought up holy cards was undoubtedly inspired. These little gems have turned thoughts back to God for centuries, helping focus distracted minds and world-weary hearts.

One collector of holy cards shared "how she prays now" by writing the following...

     "I have been amazed at the great fruit that has come from my commitment to pray several short times a day - sometimes simply reading a holy card or a printed prayer of a saint, making the intention to pray it from my heart. What great things God is doing with this little exercise!
     These initially brief prayer times have been growing in frequency, length, and fervency - and I have begun to recognize why prayer in shorter segments is working for me at this season of my life. 
     I am more likely to go to prayer in the first place when I do so with the idea that I'll stay there for a few minutes. With this attitude, I am not as likely to be tempted by thoughts that I need to clean the kitchen or work on a project before I can be free to take time to pray."

What kinds of prayers are we likely to find on a holy card? I'm sure we each have our favorites. Here are just a few that my friend has found helpful on busy days... 

"Heavenly Father, I offer You all that I shall think or do or say this day, uniting it with what was done by Jesus Christ, Your only Son. Amen."

"O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment. But most of all because I have offended Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love.  I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen."

"Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins my mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but hear and answer them. Amen."

Holy cards in US public domain due to age

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How Do I Pray Now? (It Changes With the Seasons)

Reading through my cache of rediscovered 'cloistered heart' letters, I ran across a few sharings from friends struggling to pray in the midst of everyday demands. Because I personally find these motivating, I will try to post several of them over the next few days.

"I have been paying closer attention to my days to see exactly when and how I am praying," wrote one homemaker. "My spur of the moment thought would be 'it's a hodgepodge!'  But a closer look shows me it is not as chaotic as I thought. 
     I have been studying the daily Mass readings; this gives me an opportunity to think about them more in depth.
    My life lately has been more 'Martha' than 'Mary.' I begin the day with my Morning Offering and thanking God for the new day. It is a grace-filled time for me.
    The rest of my day is filled with little thoughts, prayer aspirations, lighting a candle while I cook.
    When I can manage to escape my chores for a few minutes, I sit on my yard swing and pray. 
    When I drive I listen to hymns on my car CD payer. 
    When I think about my children, I turn my thoughts into prayers for them. I sing. I sing a lot!  
    While ironing or doing work with my hands, I sing. I often make up my own songs to suit my thoughts or the situations of the moment.
    I go to Mass several times a week. I try to pray from the Liturgy of the Hours before Mass. I go for Eucharistic Adoration each Friday, even if I can stay only a few minutes.
    So you see, at the present my prayer life is nothing formal, but it is active. 
    More and more I realize that my prayer life changes with the seasons."
"You don't know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said 'Lord, I don't know how to pray!' you can be sure you've already begun." (St. Josemaria Escriva)