Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Revisiting Boundaries

I am enclosed within the will of God.  It is a sweet thought, isn't it?  I have chosen to live within the boundaries of God's will as these have already been built for me, to protect me.  God has given Scripture and Church teaching to show me the boundaries...  to fence me in, so to speak.  If I remain within this enclosure, I am safe from spiritual harm.

But oh, the world outside God's will can look so appealing.  Those who live out there, "free" of the constraints imposed by the "thou shalts" and the "thou shalt nots"... well, they appear to be pretty happy.  They're choosing their own paths without regard to God, and sometimes making sport of those who try to live according to Church teaching. They're telling bawdy stories, drinking to excess, and engaging in behavior that the Bible and the Church clearly assure us is wrong.  This is the way the world is today, we're often told. Anyone who doesn't keep up is a killjoy.

If I'm not inclined to join in some of these particular out-of-enclosure-frolics, I may have other temptations.  To gossip, perhaps. To be unkind. To speak harshly, be slothful, give in to anger, be self-focused... oh, how the list goes on.  The world outside God's will can at times look awfully appealing.  And after all, I'm not sealed up in a cage.  There's no lock on my enclosure wall....

Day by day, I have a choice to make.  A choice not just to enter "the enclosure of God's will" once and for all - but to remain within it.  Whether or not I actually venture outside my enclosure, I do find myself craning my neck (all too often) to see how green the grass looks on the other side.

I find that the only hopes for me are prayer, reliance upon grace, and determination to accept God's help to avoid what used to be called "near occasions of sin."

Which are much nearer to us than they were a few decades ago. And they are still tailor made to kill true joy. 

"Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God's will, what is good, pleasing and perfect."  (Romans 12:2)

This is a slightly edited repost from 2012. It is being linked with Theology Is A Verb and Reconciled To You for 'It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday'      

Text not in quotes

Painting: Jehan Georges Vibert, Sneaking a Peek 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Am I Serious?

'Most people cannot leave the world in a bodily sense, but every follower of 
Christ who is serious about genuine growth must leave the spirit of the world.'  

Thomas Dubay SM, Fire Within, Ignatius Press, 1989, p. 81

Painting: Ludwig Sckell, in US public domain due to age

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Back In The Habit. A Field Trip.

It's a lovely day for a field trip. A lovely day to visit friends in the physical cloister, and to hear (anew) what the privilege of wearing a habit can mean to them.....

Click this line to find 'Clothed in Passion-Wisdom'

'I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.' (Isaiah 61:10)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Only God's Grace

Continuing to look back over old letters, I realize some things don't change all that much. Have I shared the following here before? I cannot remember. It was written in a letter more than twenty years ago, when I was going through a time of physical discomfort and distress.

'I ask for enclosure in the will of God, and flesh fights valiantly against such death. It whines and complains and tries to feel sorry for itself. I recently wrote that I was not 'beating my fists against the grillwork' of God's will as I had in times past; this time I've been coming at the grillwork with chain saws and hammers. But all the while my will is given over to God, to preferring His will over mine and His plans to mine, choosing to stay in the enclosure in spite of all of flesh's clamorings. By an act of my will I have chosen to trust that if I say I want to be in His holy will, then that is where I am indeed. He does not give snakes to those who ask for fish. And so I choose to trust Him, knowing He sees the whole picture and I do not. I have actually become grateful that the choice is tough, because if it were easy it would not be the free choice that in fact it is.  And I know I cannot make this choice. I can never do so.  Only God's grace poured out can enable me to do so... '

No, some things do not change. It remains true - it shall always remain true - that only God's grace can enable me to make the choice for His will, no matter what I may ever face.

Only God's grace.

Painting: Charles West Cope

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Opening the Vein

One facet of monastic life that looks 'greener on the other side of the fence' to me is the call to prayer. The bell rings, it's prayer time, and there's no putting it off. No opening a newspaper, no checking the morning news, no doing 'just this one thing' before settling down to prayer.

I don't know about you, but if I do 'just one thing' before giving God a few minutes, all too often one thing turns into ten, and before I know it 'things' have crowded out prayer altogether. Again.

Of course, there are important reasons why some of us need to squeeze prayer into a To-Go-Box from the minute we get out of bed. Babies need feeding, children must be cared for, work cannot always be delayed. But these are not the things that take up my personal time, not anymore.  Even when I have a busy day ahead, I can usually grab at least a few minutes to NOT turn on morning news and NOT check e-mail and to instead give that little chunk of time to God.

But do I?

I will just say this:  it's a struggle.

Sometimes I long for the discipline of a bell. I long for the accountability of those who will notice if I'm not in my choir stall. Oh, I know my mind might wander if I were in fact standing there, breviary open before me and my mind still half asleep. But at least I'd BE there. I would be praising God, and giving Him a chance to whisper...  something... to my sleepy heart.

I have compared the first prayer of morning to receiving an i.v. of saline, once, in preparation for childbirth. Wondering why this was necessary, I was told it was in case I needed medication administered quickly at any time during the birth.  The doctor wanted to have an open vein, ready to receive help on a moment's notice.

Years later, the memory of that came back to me as I pondered the grace of morning prayer. If I pray, even briefly, early in the morning, I am in effect 'opening the vein.'  Once I've begun conversation with God, prayers on-the-go are somehow easier throughout the day. I believe inspirations from God are more easily grasped as well.

Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise.  

'Live on in Me, as I do in you.  No more than a branch can bear fruit of itself apart from the vine can you bear fruit apart from Me.  I am the Vine, you are the branches.  He who lives in me, and I in him, will produce abundantly, for apart from Me you can do nothing.'  (John 15:4-5) 

This is a slightly edited repost from 2012. It is being linked with Theology Is A Verb and Reconciled To You for 'It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday'      

Text not in quotes

Painting: Grunwald, Ave Maria, in US public domain due to age 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

From Two Bent Knees

'Neither theological knowledge nor social action alone is enough to keep us in love with Christ unless both are preceded by a personal encounter with Him. Theological insights are gained not only from between the covers of a book, but from two bent knees before an altar. 
The Holy Hour becomes like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the foul and fetid atmosphere of the world.'

Venerable Fulton Sheen

Monday, July 20, 2015

I Must Decide

Today I happened across something I wrote just as the world was entering the 21st century. The questions I asked myself then are ones I'm asking again right now.....

Oh, how much time we waste! We live in an anesthetized society, one not recognizing the truth that we are all called to live in the will of God. We go about like people in a stupor.  

Yet we are called to walk in the footsteps of the saints gone before us, the ones who came out of their societal denial and used their allotment of time for God. Ours is not an easy task. There is no more time to walk with one foot in the world and one in the will of God. We must decide. 

We must walk in the footsteps of those who, in their own times, were not popular. Oh, saints are popular enough now, when we read about them in biographies, when we gaze upon statues of them in the churches blessed to still have such things. But the truth is, few were popular in their own times. Why? Largely because they reminded the world that what we GET out of life is not what really matters.

I ask myself: how much of this thinking have I, myself, bought into?

What is the motivation behind what I do with my moments and hours?

What is the focus of my life?

If I knew God were coming for me tomorrow, what would I do today?

Have I been on the fence, perhaps not fully given over to the world ... but not altogether ready to abandon myself to God? 

I cannot walk with one foot in the world and one foot in God's will. I must decide.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What a Wonder is Your Mother

'What a wonder is your mother! The Lord entered her, and became a Servant; the Word entered her, and became silent within her; Thunder entered her, and His voice was still; the Shepherd of all entered her, and He became a Lamb ... the Rich went in, He came out poor; the Most High went in, He came out lowly. Brightness went into her and clothed Himself and came forth in the form of One despised... He Who gives food to all went in, and got hunger; He Who gives all to drink went in and got thirst. From her came forth naked the One Who clothes all.'

St. Ephraem the Syrian

Painting: Eduard Veith, 1896

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Revisiting Teeny Tiny Martyrs

I was raised, in Catholic school, on stories of martyrs. These were gilded, shimmering beings who (I just knew) had floated through their lives on a plane above the rest of us, smiling at their hangmen and singing for joy in prison cells.

It did not occur to me that the wounds of such heroes might actually hurt. Nor that anyone called to such glory would not feel instantly glorious. Oh no. I was sure these shining ones were granted special dispensations from pain.

I even brought them, sometimes, into my young world of pretend.  Crossing arms across my chest, gazing wistfully at the sky with head tilted back, I glided across my front yard confident that I looked exactly like the painting on a holy card. 'Goodbye world... so long, family.... farewell, neighbors playing cowboys. I bequeath to you the cars in my sandbox and my swing hung on a tree and my black cocker spaniel.  As for me, I'm off to dance amid the flames.....'   

Fast forward many years. As a grownup in today's world, I recognize the truth that martyrdom hurts.  Prison cells are far from comfortable. Real people in real flames probably don't feel like dancing. 

I also recognize something else. I have finally gotten the message that sainthood isn't only for some.  It is for every single one of us. And martyrdom? Well, that's not a word we're tossing around lightly these days.

I have been thinking a lot, again, of the littlest martyrdoms. The ones you and I face, day after day after day. The thought of these little deaths is sticking with me, and I am seeing them more and more as opportunities. Chances to lay down my comfort, my popularity, my reputation, my pursuit of fun and luxury and entertainment; chances to stand up for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

'That pain? You can offer it for this intention'
'When you're insulted for Me, choose to count it joy'
'Pray for My Church'
'Die to your own will in this matter'
'Intercede for an end to abortion'
'Take a stand for My truth about marriage'
'Pray for Godliness in the world'
'Do not participate in this evil'
'Don't react to that person in anger'
'No one is standing up for Me. Will you?'
'The world is in trouble. Do you see that? Will you let Me show you that? Will you work and pray and sacrifice for My truth even when it costs you?'

My little deaths to self are, when compared to true martyrdom, oh so tiny. My steps toward sainthood are wobbly and small.

But I am failing God if I don't take those steps. I'm failing Him when I don't cooperate with His call.

You and I? We may feel spiritually teeny.

But we have the call to be heroes. We have the call to be saints.

Painting: Charles Amable Lenoir, Joan of Arc

This is a slightly edited repost from 2014. It is being linked with Theology Is A Verb and Reconciled To You for 'It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday'   

Sunday, July 12, 2015

In The Cloister Garden

'Our mortifications, humiliations, prayers - in a word, all the exercises we practice, what are they but acts of virtue, which are like so many beautiful flowers, that send up a perfume extremely sweet before the Divine Majesty? Therefore, we may well say that religion is a garden all sown with flowers, very pleasing to the sight, and very salutary to those who wish to inhale their fragrance.'
St. Francis de Sales

Painting: Allston Collins, Convent Thoughts