Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lent in Our Cloister

Because Lent is now upon us, I would like to again go through the 'monastery' of the 'cloistered heart' - but this time almost exclusively as an encouragement toward prayer.

I hope to keep this simple. Each post will have a short reading from Scripture, a brief quote from a saint or other Catholic writer, possibly a short 'cloistered heart' comment to go along with these, and a question or focus for reflection.

It is my prayer that the images posted will also be aids to our meditation. I had, in fact, chosen one for this post and decided that, no - that needs to be saved for a bit later (I personally found it quite inspiring).

We will, God willing, begin this tomorrow. In the meantime, I write this as another one of those 'posts I can link back to' if necessary.

I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will touch our hearts and draw us closer to HIS heart. May we each have a holy, fruitful Lent.

Painting: Jacopo Pontormo, St Antony the Great

Why Don't You Come Too?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A New Blog in Town

What a wonderful surprise I had yesterday. I discovered that the Visitation Nuns in Tyringham, Massachusetts have a (drum roll please.....) new BLOG! 

'Honey For the Soul' can be found at vistyr.blogspot.com

The Sisters' most recent post tells us how they celebrate Shrovetide, when they 'get the giggles out' before Lent.

Now, that is my kind of celebrating!

Let's go see what they're up to, shall we?  Click here to visit.

Photo: Tyringham Visitation by N Shuman,1990s

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Revisiting The Cloistered Heart

The following was one of my earliest attempts to outline (at the request of a helpful priest) the idea and analogies of The Cloistered Heart. Now, twenty years later, this continues to call me back to basics. It challenges me and helps me reconnect with my own desires to live 'a little above and more than earth.'

My call is to be in the world but not of the world.  This is not a new or different idea; rather, it is an emphasizing, a kind of underlining, of every Christian's call. I find it helpful to recognize that within me is a 'place' set apart for and consecrated to God.  This place of consecration is sacred and inviolate, for the God of all dwells therein.

The word 'cloister' speaks of total consecration. Those who enter a traditional physical cloister make a tangible break from the world. Compromise does not fit well in a cloister, nor does lukewarmness, nor does complacency. The cloistered life is absolute.  A nun living in a cloister has made a decision to live for God. She has made a break.

A Christian living in the world is also called to make a decision to live for God, but the break for us is not so clean. The world is persistent in its tugs on the heart trying to live for God.  Therefore, we need support in our struggles to surrender our lives to God and to resist the world's allurements. This is where the imagery of the cloistered heart can be of help.

'It is best not to consider whether or not one is called to the cloister; that is not the point.  If the cloister is in a man's heart, it is immaterial whether the building is actually there.  The cloister in a man's heart means only this:  God and the soul.' (from Warriors of God by W. Nigg, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 1959, p. 13)

A cloistered heart may be married or single, nurse or engineer or homemaker, yet the heart can be cloistered. My cloister is not made of bricks and stones, but of God's holy will in which I have chosen to live. The will of God forms for me a 'cloister grille,' through which I may view and respond to all people, all circumstances, all things that make up the world in which I live.  My commitment to God does not conflict with family life, but rather enhances and empowers it.

Many years ago, another had this same kind of vision.  St. Jane de Chantal, when she was yet a laywoman (widowed with four children), imaged her spiritual world with monastic imagery, and took the Virgin Mary as the Abbess of the cloister of her own heart.

I ask for her intercession and for that of St. Francis de Sales, who encouraged Jane in her monastic imagery.  May they pray for all of us who wish to live in the world as 'cloistered hearts.'

'The heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place ‘to which I withdraw.’  The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully.  The heart is the place of decision..' (Catechism of the Catholic Church,  2563) 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Squeezing Through the Crack

Wanting to live 'a little above and more than earth,' I've looked back over letters from someone who spent several cloistered years discerning a possible Religious vocation. As it turned out, that was not what God had for her; instead, He called her out of the convent and (later) into married life. After reading an early article on The Cloistered Heart, Rose had the following thoughts to share:  

'I had this idea that prayer, holiness, and the spiritual life were for the religious vocation and hidden behind high, thick brick walls.  I longed to find a crack in that wall so I could have just a tiny taste of the spiritual life I once knew.  Then the Holy Spirit brought the Cloistered Heart to me.  The Cloistered Heart allowed me to squeeze through a tiny crack in that big brick wall.  I long for the fullness of all of God's promises for those who love Him to the heights.  And if that sounds presumptive, then so be it, because I know that it is meant for us all.  Not just the Religious or the saints, but for all.....' (from a letter by Rose)

'Some people might think it contradictory to speak of 'contemplative' in the same sentence as 'mother of a very large family.'  But it is the contemplative spirit that has helped me survive the chaos that is natural when raising a number of children.... The cloister in my heart is a place of refuge.  It is a place where I can retreat from the world no matter where I am; in the middle of a crowded mall, or in a busy grocery store, or in my own kitchen.' (Rose)

'I remember reading that obedience to one's superior is more meritorious than all the self-imposed mortifications, fastings and prayers. Then I realized my superior is really my vocation as a wife and mother. Therefore, my duties and responsibilities of motherhood must come first. And, done with the right intentions (as St. Francis de Sales says, 'for the greater glory of God'), all my actions are lifted up in prayer.'

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Little Above and More Than Earth

'In those soft tones which are so usual to them, the nuns bade us goodbye. As we came away, the Mother Superior said quietly, with a subdued and gently resigned fear lest we might not look upon the convent as it shone in her eyes and lived in her spirit: 'it is all very old fashioned and plain, but we love it. It is our home on earth and' (hesitating again) ' we think it is a little above and more than earth.' (A Story of Courage; text slightly edited)

Reading these words, I see my own call.

I am to live on earth, obviously, and I'm to interact with others, and I'm to be part of the world around me. All the while, however, I am called by God to rise above the persistent pull of sin. I'm to fix my eyes on Jesus, and to consistently choose His way above all that is contrary to His will.    

Perhaps this is why the idea of a cloistered heart so draws me. I cannot live behind the walls of a monastery, for that is not my vocation. But living fully for God in the midst of the world? That IS my vocation. And after spending a little time behind cloister walls, where God is the absolute Center of every single thing and where everyone lives fully and openly for Him, we just might find it tough to return to the vanity and godlessness and sin of the world outside.
'You put it so perfectly,' I wrote to a friend some years ago, 'when you wrote of returning from your retreat at the monastery feeling disoriented and like someone who had to be convalescing after a long illness. We have a taste of consecrated life and we are never the same - never the same. The 'Motherhouse' of monasticism calls to us while we are out in the world 'on mission.'  It is in some way, purely and simply, home. We are like those in a foreign land, having become acclimated enough to speak the language and to love the people. But sometimes, in the quiet of our hearts, we begin to long for others who can speak our native tongue. We are like refugees who love to meet those of their homeland, to share our cultural stories and sing the anthems of home.' 

'Those experiences were so intense and holy to me,' writes a woman who spent a brief period of time in monastic life, 'that I have never been comfortable in the world since.  It seems to me to be similar to what soldiers experience after being deployed into life-and-death combat in a foreign land - something so alien to our normal existence that it can never be fully explained in words to people who have not had that experience, nor can its imprint ever be erased from the soul.'

My friends have experienced life in a place that is a little above and more than earth. As for me, when I left the monastery after my first cloistered retreat, I wished I could bring the bricks and stones with me. Which is not what I truly wanted to hold onto, of course. I wanted to bring back a world centered on and revolving around Christ. I wanted to bring home a steady routine of prayer. I wanted to bring (most of all) a place where the Blessed Sacrament was in residence. I wanted to bring back others who could share stories of God's goodness, and who would sing with me the anthems of Home.

In my everyday life, I continue the struggle to live fully for God, and I know you do as well. In days to come, we'll be discussing this a bit further. As we do so, I pray that God will help each of us live fully for Him, whatever our states of life.

I pray He will teach us to live a little above and more than earth.

'From this valley of tears, turn your gaze continually to God, ever awaiting the moment when you will be united to Him in heaven. Often contemplate heaven, and fervently exclaim: 'What a beautiful abode there is above! It is destined for us!' Sigh longingly after its possession. Sometimes say....  'Nothing on this earth pleases me; I no longer care for anything but my God. Yes, I hope, yes, I wish to possess Him, and I hope this is the mercy of God, through the merits of my Saviour's Passion and the dolors of my good Mother Mary.'' (St. Paul of the Cross).

Text not in quotes

For now, we will say so long to the book A Story of Courage, although more quotes will be inserted as they are found to fit various topics.To go back to the beginning of this little 'series' and from there find the posts in chronological order, click this line. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Astonished by Beauty

Of all my cloistered retreats, one was particularly fruitful. This was spent in the same monastery the Lathrops visited for A Story of Courage.

As we've seen in our recent posts, this monastery is not in mountains or meadow, but situated right in the hubub of Georgetown, DC.

'There was a lush cloister garden,' I wrote several years ago, 'and it was separated from the streets by high walls.  My plan was to sit with Bible and journal and gather together scattered threads of thoughts and prayers.  The sounds of traffic around?  No problem.  I looked upon those as bits of minor background noise.  I would spend the day with God, in peace.  An ideal set up for serenity.

That is, until the band.

From a campus nearby, there were sudden sounds of an outdoor concert.  A LOUD outdoor concert.  I sat in the garden surrounded by trees, holy statues, birds, and THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD.  Thud thud thuds out of context, setting my nerves on end.  Suddenly, ordinary street sounds began to unsettle me.  How long had there been planes flying overhead, one after another, and so close-by?  The city seemed filled with sirens.  Voices shouted, just outside the enclosure walls. Oh dear.  However could I pray?

And then it was time for Midday Prayer.  A bell rang, the Sisters gathered.  As a retreatant, I joined them.  We began the chant.  One Sister quietly closed shutters to hush metallic thuds.  That didn’t help, but the nuns sang on undaunted.  “O Lord, open my lips”THUDTHUDTHUD“and my mouth shall proc” THRUMP THUDTHUMPTHUD “…laim your praise…”

I was suddenly struck by the incongruity of it all.  Sirens, traffic, shouting, planes, THUDs, chant.

But more than that: I was astonished by beauty.  By the intense, amazing beauty I was witnessing all around.  One Sister said, just before I left, that she was sorry I’d been there at such a noisy time.  Oh no, I assured her; I had been there at the perfect time.

I had seen the analogy of 'the cloistered heart' in a whole new way, not in spite of the noises, but because of them.  No matter what went on outside, the nuns were there to praise God, and they would do it undaunted.

Probably the Sisters didn’t 'feel' very prayerful as they chanted praises they could barely hear, but they were singing to Another, and He could hear them.

Surely there are days when one of them doesn’t 'feel prayerful,' but she comes at the sound of the bell and she praises God.  Why?  Because He deserves it.  He deserves praise and worship with the whole of one’s being.

No matter the noises, no matter the weather, no matter the situations around any of us, God is present.

God is present and He is worthy of praise. Period.

(this is an edited post from our archives)


Photos of Georgetown Visitation, N. Shuman, 1990s

This post is part of our series 'A Story of Courage.' To continue in chronological order, click this line.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

I Shall Take This As A Challenge

'We were led to the assembly room, where the sisters gather for an hour after dinner, and about two hours in the evening, meeting socially for what they call their 'recreation.' Then they busy themselves with knitting or plain sewing, or with any fancy-work or embroidery they may have to do... much pleasant chat goes on, and a harmless joke pleases every one. 

'Even here, there are many reminders that a higher purpose is always to be kept in view. One of these is a written scroll of paper attached to the wall, near the fireplace, and called the 'Challenge....' to give special attention to some particular virtue - patience, humility, gentleness, cheerfulness - whichever it may be that is specified on the scroll. Briefly, it is a quiet appeal to them, putting them on their mettle or their honor and conscience, to make an additional effort to excel in that virtue. There is a challenge for Advent, for Christmas, for Epiphany, for Lent, for Easter, for Pentecost. ...

'Now it may seem, to those who are wholly unaccustomed to such methods of thought and action, that this ever present watchfulness of self, and this constant endeavor to rise to the higher plane even while engaged in amusement or social converse, must become intolerably monotonous and a frightful strain. But, on the contrary, this conventual system of mingled self-examination and unselfish activity results in the greatest buoyancy of spirits, and in a healthy, happy life....' (A Story of Courage, George Parsons Lathrop and Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, original publication date: 1894)

This post is part of our series 'A Story of Courage.' To continue in chronological order, click this line.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A City Sort of Vision

'The Convent is a large three-sided structure... Across the street is a row of cosy dwellings, standing somewhat back from the sidewalk... the city and the suburb have been gradually welded into one, by a continuous and expanding web of streets and houses...' (A Story of Courage)

As a retreatant in the cloister of this convent, I was once housed in a cell overlooking the sidewalk. The view, overlooking a street lined with rowhouses in Georgetown DC, was charming. But there was no respite from the noise.

One of the nuns later apologized for my not being placed on the other side of the building, where I would have overlooked the (quieter) cloister garden. No need for regrets, said I.  I was exactly where I needed to be.

On one of my mornings there, I wrote the following in my journal:   'Chant, as we prayed this morning, curled around me. I was nestled, as a baby in its mother's gentle arms. Lilting voices lifted like the softest of lullabies, and I was stilled.  Now I sit in my cell, looking out the window...

'The houses across the street 'look at this one,' and this one 'looks at them.' They share a narrow street, yet they are divided by a world, by an entire culture. How like a cloistered heart looking at the face of someone across a room, a street, a yard, out a car window, in a store, in the midst of a family gathering.

'I watch the sky turn light outside my window. The city is waking as I write this. Cars, buses, planes, all move along their way for one more day. Birds chatter, unmindful of the ways of man, of the city of man that is this bustling metropolis, this powerful and mighty place of power among the nations of earth.

'Perhaps I see contrast as much as anything as I sit here. Black branches stand in silhouette against a lightening sky. Cars rush by below me; silver, gray, maroon. Birds call out above me; brown, gray, maroon. 

'Such an important city. Such human power in these houses and streets. And all the while, the sky stretches above all and is over all; unnoticed, for the most part.

'The cloistered heart is a 'city' sort of vision. We must learn to sing the songs of God in a land removed from Him. To sing the Magnificat even as we live the Pieta. Ours are gentle melodies in a land that has forgotten the song. Like birds calling from the treetops, like warblers who sing in the city of man, I must join the chorus.

'I must sing, and I must allow God to do what He wishes with the song.'

Most of the above is reposted from our archives. It is linked to Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for 'It's Worth Revisiting Wednesday.'


This post is part of our series 'A Story of Courage.' To continue in chronological order, click this line. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Caught, the Bright Courage

Looking around my house, I see a number of things placed 'just for decoration.' Mirrors, pictures, vases of dried flowers, bowls filled with shells.

The decor in monasteries is not like that.

'There are interesting pictures on the walls.... There is a large painting over the mantelpiece of the Blessed Virgin meeting St. Elizabeth (and).. sturdy portraits of the saints, and the beaming representations of angels.' (A Story of Courage)

In a monastery, every item has a practical purpose. Each thing in every room is meant to help the nuns or monks live on this earth (to eat, sleep, bathe), or to lift their hearts to the heavenly realm. Paintings hung on walls do not usually focus attention on this world, which to some extent can be seen by looking out a window, but they're meant to direct minds toward God - and to His saints surrounding us. 

'Within the clear monochrome of these pictures is caught the bright courage of religious zeal and sublime law. Their firm glances, their steady poise of head, express the only genuine satisfaction and happiness; namely, those which last through eternity. They remind us of the sort of people we trust. They remind us of those faces which, throughout our own lives, have given us the most solid comfort and the deepest refreshment....'

Do I ever think about my companions the saints? Do I read their writings and seek their intercession?

Are there particular saints who have inspired me with their wisdom and courage? 

If I were furnishing my home as one furnishes a monastery, whose pictures would I hang on my walls?

'We must always have before our eyes the virtues and examples of the saints, in order to pattern and form all our actions on them.'  (St. Francis de Sales)

This post is part of our series 'A Story of Courage.' To continue in chronological order, click this line.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Treasure in the Refectory

One of the most memorable meals of my life was in a Monastery. As a retreatant, I was privileged to be seated with the nuns, in a setup exactly like the one described by the Lathrops (below). I'd had a prayerful, fruitful day of quiet, and I came to supper with my spirit dancing.

‘One of the first places we visited was the refectory.  The board-like tables upon which the few dishes of the nuns are placed are the same that were set up for the nuns here a hundred years ago. A raised desk called a pulpit, in the middle of one side of the room, is where the sister sits who reads aloud during the meals; at which, by the way, no conversation is allowed. The spiritual food she dispenses is usually the Life of a Saint, or passages from saintly writings.' (A Story of Courage, p. 14)

My memorable meal could not have happened without silence. As it was, nothing interrupted my prayerful train of thought and, in fact, everything about this supper added to it. The Sisters didn't have 'refectory reading' that night, but instead played a CD of classical music. My thoughts were free, therefore, to go along a track which I will find impossible (I know) to describe. But I'll try.

It was a Saturday night, and I thought of people 'out in the world' in fine, fancy restaurants. I imagined a lady dressed in silk, wearing diamonds, delicately dabbing her mouth on a white damask napkin. She was dining on filet mignon, lemon capellini with caviar, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, tiramisu. A piano would be playing lightly in the background; mellow standards with a touch of jazz. The lady might be chatting with her companions, against a background of muffled conversations and silverware clattering against china. Perhaps this was an establishment noted for its view, maybe a revolving restaurant high above a city glittering with night life. The chairs were comfortable, cushy, soft. 

‘Here in the refectory the only seats are benches ranged along the walls. There are no chairs. The nuns do not gather around a table, in the ordinary social way, but sit in order on the long, hard benches, at one side of the continuous tables, against the wall, and face the middle of the room. None of them sit on the opposite side of the table, which is left empty and clear, so that the servers, who constitute in turn all the sisters, from the Superioress to the novices, can conveniently place the dishes for them, from that side.' (p. 16)

I sat straight up on a hard bench, looking at my little bowl of buttered carrots. Plain glass windows across the room let me know night was falling, but I could still make out the concrete angel statue standing outside on a little hill. Lights along the ceiling reflected in the window, and glinted off the edge of my water glass, and let me see my companions seated along the walls of the long room. These were silent Sisters, their expressions pleasant, in black habits and long veils, wearing profession crosses of silver and habit-rosaries of dark wood. They did not look at one another; only at their plain white plates and bowls. I, meanwhile, watched the windows darken and the concrete angel dim.  

And I realized. Of all the people dining that evening, in all of the restaurants and houses and country clubs and townhomes and ballrooms across all the lands in all the earth, I was surely one of the happiest. It is no exaggeration to say that, during this simplest of meals, my soul was soaring.  Can I really describe this? Just as I expected - no.  I cannot. I can only say that I remember the refectory as shining with light and splendor and richness that evening.

I can only say that the overhead lights were chandeliers. Drinking glasses morphed into crystal. Fish sticks were lobster. Sturdy white plates were delicate china. A hard bench was made of cushioned velvet. And water became the finest wine.

'He brings me into the banquet hall, and His banner over me is love.' (Song of Songs 1:4)


Painting of Refectory: Pietro Lorenzetti
Painting of Party: Ralph Curtis, James McNeill Whistler at a Party

This post is part of our series 'A Story of Courage.' To continue in chronological order, click this line.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

My Cell

Painting of Candlemas Day by Marianne Stokes, in US public domain due to age

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Cell Apart

'The bedroom of a person in the world is supposed to contain dear mementos and luxuries and ornaments; sundry easy-chairs and soft pillows and cosy nooks, which are considered adequate to console the bruised spirit after its daily tussle in the arena of men… but in the nun’s life the coziest, quietest nook is an altar before which to pray. Are we strong enough to keep in reserve no lair, no robber’s cave, where we can steal away from God, nursing our pet fancies, or handling the fairy gold of self-indulgence? Are we generous enough to merge ourselves wholly in the unselfishness of divinity? If not, we recoil from the frank simplicity, the austere plainness, of a nun’s cell. Here there is no place for withdrawal into a self which is mere selfishness. Over each door stands the name of a saint, and the mention of some virtue to be remembered and cultivated. The little beds are prim and hard; the pictures are few, and in their intention point heavenward. Cold, literally, the tiny rooms are... with one big window apiece giving plenty of light and air; no carpet, one chair; and the only richness to be detected in all this region of simplicity is that richest blessing – the consolation of faith.' (A Story of Courage, pp. 32-33)

Struggling to describe my first-ever stay in a monastic cell, I've realized that, some years ago, I already wrote about it. My reaction to being in such a setup surprised me, because I had approached this little room with some apprehension. It was a narrow fourth-floor cell, bare of all but the most basic necessities, with one window overlooking the cloister garden below. Here, I would maintain silence. Here, I would be removed from the busy world outside.

'I once spent several days in the cloister of a monastery,' I wrote of this experience. 'I stayed in a simple little cell furnished with twin bed, small chair, dresser, and one tiny table. There was no closet, only a hook behind the door. As the hook strained beneath the weight of all the clothing I had brought with me, I thought of how cluttered was my life compared to the lives of the nuns.

'I spent my first night in this cell sleepless, at times burying my face in the pillow hoping to muffle my sobs. I was not crying from sadness, nor from homesickness. I was crying from something else, something indescribable, something resulting from the strong presence of God that I knew was in that cell. There in that tiny room, I knew I was with God.

'Someone reminded me, several months later, that St. Catherine of Siena had been called to create a cell in her heart where she and God might meet together. Immediately I thought back to my little cell at the monastery. Certainly I, a cloistered heart, had a cell in my heart as well...' (from The Cloistered Heart)

'When the father and mother of St. Catherine of Siena deprived her of all opportunity for time and place to pray and meditate, our Lord inspired her to build a little oratory within her soul, where she could retire mentally and enjoy this holy heartfelt solitude while going about her outward duties.... Because of this, she afterwards counseled her spiritual children to make a cell within their own heart and dwell in it. Therefore, withdraw your spirit from time to time into your heart and there, apart from the world of men, you can converse heart to heart with God.' (St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life)


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tiptoeing Toward the Cell

’There is arithmetic in all this; and one is at a disadvantage until one learns to figure it out. A religious life is very nice in its calculations. If you follow the deductions of the cloister, you find out what seems good and remunerative in worldly life, and what is good and remunerative in a cloistered life, by a perfectly clear process of division and subtraction. The delusive speciousness of elegance in what we can buy is challenged by the genuine values of what the virtues can give us, even out of the seeming barrenness of a convent cell.’ (A Story of Courage, p. 33)

I've had intermittent trouble with our Internet connection. Plans for sharing all I would like about 'the cell' therefore, must be put on hold. In the meantime, I am spending a bit of time with the above paragraph, and particularly with its last sentence. I will admit that writing about my first experience 'in the seeming barrenness of a convent cell' is proving challenging. Primarily because there, I found the exact opposite of barrenness. But some things are hard to speak of, really.

Within a day or so (if the Internet cooperates, and by the grace of God), I shall try....

'The metaphor of the cell brings to mind the idea of a retreat in which the soul can renew its strength after the fatigue of the active life, where it can leave aside visible things to think about those that are invisible, and where it finally finds peace, far from external distractions…'(J.M. Perrin OP., from Catherine of Siena, Newman Press, 1965)

This post is part of our series 'A Story of Courage.' To continue in chronological order, click this line.

Monday, January 18, 2016

There Still Remains One Sanctuary

'The 'little gallery' for the infirm or invalid sisters is just above the grated opening of the choir, and from this the sisters can look down into the sanctuary. This little gallery is reached from the second floor by passing down a long corridor, on each side of which is a row of cells. Here, in the small room, we found wooden chairs, glistening with the polish of a hundred years or more... ' (A Story of Courage p. 35)

Wouldn't it be wonderful if, when we were unable to get out to Mass and/or Adoration, we could simply go to the end of our hallway and look straight into a chapel? 

Thankfully, Our Lord has provided help for those of us who do not live in monasteries. We can adore Him wherever we are, even from sickbeds and hospital rooms, in the cloisters of our hearts. 

'Thank God, there still remains one sanctuary, the sacredness of which no earthly power may violate…  It is the sanctuary of the human heart.  It needs no fixed place for its confines, no stated time for the opening of its gates, no particular hour of silence for its prayer.  A thought, a word, a moment of reflection, and by faith and by love, the soul is within the blessed refuge, and the gates are closed on the confusion of life with all its noise and tumult. It is secure against the bitterness and the pain of persecution, or hardship or trial, or hurt of body, or wound of earthly pride, or failure of worldly ambition, for there she is inviolable, sacred, impregnable in the fortress of her own spirit.' (From The Living Pyx of Jesus, Pelligrini and Co, 1941, p.101) 

'We cannot go to Jesus in the Tabernacle at every moment of the day, but we can turn inward to the Triune God at any moment, even in the midst of our day's worst difficulties.' (The Living Pyx of Jesus, Pelligrini, 1941, p. 27)

'To be with God it is not necessary to be always in church. We may make a chapel of our heart, whereto to escape from time to time to talk with Him quietly, humbly and lovingly.... Begin then; perhaps He is waiting for a single generous resolution.' (Brother Lawrence)  

This post is part of our series 'A Story of Courage.' To continue in chronological order, click this line.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Where Can I Pray?

'Stepping from the corridor, a little farther on, we went into the long choir, whose clear windows look out over the garden; a spacious room fitted with numerous dark stalls on either side, where the sisters sit, or kneel, chanting their offices; matins and lauds, the last devotion at night, then prime, terce, sext, and none; at different early hours of the morning; vespers in the afternoon; and, in the evening, compline. It is in this place — which is not a part of the chapel, but is a room in the convent, simply looking into the chapel — that they hear mass and perform their other religious exercises; their voices
heard, themselves unseen by (those) who come to the chapel.' (A Story of Courage, p. 35-36)

In the cloister of my heart, I can have a 'choir stall.'  Mine is a portable place of prayer, traveling with me to supermarket, airplane, mall.  I can 'sit down' in this prayer-chair regardless of surroundings, seeking God's touch upon my life and on the lives of those around me.

In a very real way, my 'choir stall' can be defined as the place where I am now. 

Upon awakening in the morning, I can enter my choir stall by beginning my day with a prayer.  This is the framework upon which the rest of the day will be woven. 

At some point during the day, I try to set aside a block of time to spend with God. I spend time in prayer with Scripture. It may also be possible for me to go to Mass or Adoration. 'Even if your daily life in the service of mankind is overburdened with work, it has to include time devoted to silence and to prayer…. Learn to pray!'  (Pope St. John Paul II) 

Throughout the morning, afternoon, and evening, I use brief prayers to return me to my choir stall.  I turn my heart to God with inward phrases of prayer, no matter what I am doing or where I happen to be.  'Jesus, I trust in You…' 'Holy Spirit, be my guide….'

As I begin various activities, I can enter the choir stall by offering my actions to God and imploring His aid.  'O you who fear the Lord, praise Him in the places where you are now. Change of place does not affect any drawing nearer to God, but wherever you may be, God will come to you.' (Gregory of Nyssa).

As I retire, I close the day in my choir stall. 'Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace.'  (From Liturgy of the Hours, Night Prayer).
(Above text reposted from our archives)


This post is part of our series 'A Story of Courage.' To continue in chronological order, click this line.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Absolute Center

'The chapel looked narrow, high, sacred, mellow with mingled colors, and lovely in its vague richness and calm. An ancient picture, browned by time, represents Martha and Mary in a composition of much dignity, and hangs directly over the altar... (A Story of Courage, p. 36) 

The first place a person is likely to visit in a monastery is the chapel, for in the chapel is found the center of monasticism.

This is because Jesus is the Absolute Center of cloistered life. To miss this truth is to miss the point of monasticism, and it's to miss the whole point of having a 'cloistered heart.' 

How can a man or woman leave home, possessions, career, entertainment - and so many things the world considers important - in order to take up residence behind enclosure walls?  For what reason would a person even consider such a thing?  

The Reason is a Person.  Without this Person, cloistered life would be pointless and empty and fruitless and vague.  
If we know and remember nothing else about monasteries or various aspects of consecrated life, we must remember this:   

Jesus is the Reason for it all.  

"The fundamental question: ' does he really seek God.'  Let us state the fact without beating about the bush:  a monastic institute which ceased to put this question to its postulants, or which inserted some different question in its place, would cease ipso facto to have any right to the name monastic.  The search, the true search, in which the whole of one's being is engaged, not for some thing but for some One:  is the search for God.  That is the beginning and end of monasticism.  If it is to be truly God which we seek, we have to seek him as a Person."  (The Meaning of the Monastic Life, Lois Bouyer of the Oratory, PJ Kenedy and Sons, NY, 1950,p. 8)
'The Christian life is nothing else but Christ; the monastic life is nothing else but Christ. The requirements for the Christian and for the monk are in substance the same… whether it is union with Him in the world or in the cloister, it is union that is the soul’s purpose. Nothing else matters but this.” (Dom Hubert Van Zeller, THE YOKE OF DIVINE LOVE, Templegate, Springfield IL, 1957, p. 182) 
"We are, each of us, a Living Cathedral.  Each is his own chapel. And provided we are in a state of grace, God lives and dwells within us… (so) we must live and act as if we were dwelling in a church in the presence of the Tabernacle.” (The Living Pyx of Jesus, Pellegrini & Co., Australia,  1941)

(This post is primarily a combination of wrtings from our archives)