Thursday, December 18, 2014

Burn This Straw and Change It

'My soul is poor and bare of virtues,
the straws of so many imperfections
will prick You and make You weep;
but O, my Lord, what can You expect?
This little is all I have.
I am touched by Your poverty...
Jesus, honor my soul with Your presence,
adorn it with Your graces.
Burn this straw
and change it into a soft couch
for Your most holy body.

'Jesus, I am here waiting for Your coming.
Wicked men have driven You out
and the wind is like ice.
Come into my heart.
I am poor, but I will warm You
as well as I can....

'I want to adore You,
to kiss You on the brow, O tiny Jesus,
to give myself to You once more, forever.
Come, my Jesus, delay no longer.
Come, be my Guest.'

St. John Paul XXIII

Painting:  Detail of Sheep in Manger, Charles Emile Jacque, digitally altered

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dear Saint Nicholas,

My wish this year is not like what I’ve asked for before.  I'm not writing to ask for candy or trinkets.  This year I have but one wish:  I want to be a candle.

I want to stand tall and firm, carrying the Light of Christ even when winds and storms lash about me.  You see, good St. Nicholas, the world has grown terribly dark.  We talk of peace and sing of peace, yet rumors of wars swirl all around.  We’re busy and distracted, we have no time left over to pray.  We get confused about what is truth and what is not; we redefine sin and call it “choice” and “entertainment,” and there is more darkness around than I could tell you about.  In fact, there’s more darkness than I can even see.  It can be hard to peer into darkness, and I feel sometimes like a child at night who wants to cover her head with blankets and wait for morning light.  I need the light; the world needs the light.  So I want to be a candle.

Like a pillar of flame standing beside the Tabernacle in a monastery, lifting firelight fingers high in adoration, I want to offer praise to God.  Like a sanctuary light gently calling attention to the fact that Jesus is with us, I want to keep vigil by His side and call attention to Him.  I would like to flicker softly, as a gentle reminder of His presence, no matter where I may be.  So I want to be a candle.

I know I am asking a lot.  I know that in order for the Flame to increase, a candle must decrease.  A candle gives itself for the Fire; it gives its all.  That’s okay.  You see, I want to live my life for God.  I am not so good at the doing of this, but with the grace of God I’m getting better at the wanting.  

And I want to be a candle….

“The light came into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were wicked.  Everyone who practices evil hates the light; he does not come near it, for fear his deeds will be exposed.  But he who acts in truth comes into the light, to make clear that his deeds are done in God.” (John 3:19-21)

“The light shines on in darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

This is a republication of a post from our archives.


Top painting by Godfried Schalcken, detail
Animated candle in public domain, from Wikimedia

Monday, December 15, 2014

We Blush With Shame

'You, O eternal God... have come down from the great height of Your divinity to the mire of our humanity, because the lowliness of my intellect could neither understand nor behold such height. In order that my littleness might see Your greatness, You became a little child, concealing the greatness of Your Deity in the littleness of our humanity....

O blush with shame, blind creature, so exalted and honored by your God, not to know that God, in His inestimable charity, came down from the height of His infinite Deity to the lowliness of your humanity!'

St. Catherine of Siena

Painting: James Tissot, 
St. Joseph Seeks Lodging in Bethlehem

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gaudate Sunday

The Time 

To our e-mail subscribers: this post contains a video. As always, advertisements on videos are not chosen nor endorsed by me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Invited, Through a Back Door

'Mary is now with child, awaiting birth, and Joseph is full of expectancy as he enters the city of his own family. He searched for a place for the birth of him to whom heaven and earth belonged. 

'Could it be that the Creator would not find room in his own creation? Certainly, thought Joseph, there would be room in the village inn. There was room for the rich; there was room for those who were clothed in soft garments; there was room for everyone who had a tip to give to the innkeeper.

'But when finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest line of all will be: "There was no room in the inn." 

'No room in the inn, but there was room in the stable. 

'The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world's moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. 

'But there's no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is a place for outcasts, the ignored and the forgotten. 

'The world might have expected the Son of God to be born in an inn; a stable would certainly be the last place in the world where one would look for him. The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. 

'So the Son of God made man is invited to enter into his own world through a back door.'

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen 

Painting: Constable, Donkeys in the stable

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

That Wondrous Interruption

This time of year can bring both blessing and hassle.  Meditations, carols, the contagious wonder of wide-eyed children...  these unwrap great blessings and often great fun. 

For some of us, however, the activities of Christmas can feel like an intrusion.  Day to day life is more or less put on hold by an urgent need to shop and wrap and plan.  Chairs and tables are displaced by, of all things, a tree in the middle of our house.  There is no time to do ordinary things, as everyday life is seriously disrupted for weeks on end.  It can seem like a major interruption.

A few years ago, the truth of it hit me.  This is what Christmas has been since the instant of the Incarnation: an interruption.  Please stay with me here, because our first reaction to the word “interruption” could be negative.  But interruptions are often quite positive, and this Interruption was the most positive of them all. 

Think of it.  Mary was living a quiet, hidden life.  She was betrothed.  Then one day an angel appeared to her, and with that Holy Interruption Mary’s life was changed forever.  As was Joseph’s, as was yours, as was mine.

As we know, there was a Birth.  There were shepherds tending their flocks, and again an angel appeared.  A night of sheep-watching was interrupted.   

While most of the world went on unaware, a few men in the east noticed something out of the ordinary.  A sign in the sky.  Something signaling, to them, a wondrous Interruption – one so marvelous that they must drop any other plans they had and go in haste, and they must bring gifts.  These men were wise enough to know that somehow the world had changed, maybe even that the course of life on earth had been altered.

The change was so shattering that mankind took notice.  Calendars would later mark the divide.

God Himself had split the heavens.  

We now measure time by the before and after of that Grand Interruption, in effect saying that yes, we see.  We may not understand, really, but we recognize the wonder and the mystery of it.  God interrupted the cycle of sin and death by breaking into our world (John 3:16).  Jesus broke into the flesh of man, shattering hopelessness with His power and mercy.

With Jesus' arrival in the flesh, God interrupted our misery.  He opened to us the path to salvation.  

When I feel stressed by Christmas interruptions, I try to remember what I'm celebrating. Death was interrupted by Life. Despair was interrupted by Hope.

With that wondrous interruption, God tore through the fabric of time.

This is a slightly edited version of a post from our archives


Painting at top: John William Waterhouse, The Annunciation
Painting in middle: Blake, Ancient of Days

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Advent Linkup

Sunday, December 7, 2014

But Take Courage!

'The one peculiar and characteristic sin of the world is this:
that whereas God would have us live for the life to come, 
the world would make us live for this life.'
(John Henry Cardinal Newman)

'You will suffer in the world, but take courage!
I have overcome the world'
(words of Jesus in John 16:33)

Painting: José García Ramos, Leaving a Masqued Ball 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Necessary Winter

'In heaven it shall be all a springtime of beauty, 
all an autumn of enjoyment, all a summer of love. 
Winter there shall be none; 
but here winter is necessary for the exercise of abnegation 
and of the thousand beautiful little virtues 
which are practiced in the time of barrenness.' 

St. Francis de Sales

Painting: Jules Breton, Last Flowers

Friday, December 5, 2014

Are You Hurting? Let us Pray

It seems the world is obsessed with Christmas; so beautifully obsessed. As my friend RG pointed out to me years ago, this would never have been the case if Jesus had not come to us.

For some people, however, this is a painful time of year. A season to be gotten through, tackled, weathered like a storm. How can the rest of the world be rejoicing if someone I love is in the throes of a serious illness? How can I turn on a radio if I'm taking a chance on hearing my recently deceased father's favorite carol? Maybe my best friend or a beloved relative is off in a faraway land. While everyone else is celebrating, I just might burst into tears.

I suspect many of us have had such seasons, at one time or another, over the years. Times when we'd rather just skip the decorating and the ho-ho-hos and wait for a white blanket of January to settle the world back into its normal routine.

These words might seem strange to anyone who has never experienced loss. Depending upon our ages and states of life, we may be among those. However, if anyone reading this is grieving, in pain, depressed by the long dark nights of winter, or maybe just wishing the holidays would be over and gone - know that you are not alone.

In fact, you are so "not alone" that I'm going to ask a favor of everyone reading this.

Could we each take just a minute and offer a little prayer for anyone coming across these words who might be hurting?  If this post gets to a number of people, that could amount to quite a few prayers.

May God lift burdens, heal pains, comfort loneliness, and soothe hearts. 'We beseech You, Lord and Master, be our help and succor, save those among us who are in tribulations, have mercy on the lowly, lift up the fallen, show Yourself to the needy, heal the ungodly; convert the wanderers of Your people, feed the hungry, release our prisoners, raise up the weak, comfort the fainthearted, let all nations know You are God.'  (St. Clement of Rome)

'Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for You.' (1 Peter 5:7)

(this is an edited version of a post first published on this blog last year)

Painting: Lukjan Vasilievich Popov, In the Garden 1911


Thursday, December 4, 2014

As in a Palace of Splendor

'My heart is Your abode, O King of Eternal Glory. Rule in my heart and be Lord, as in a palace of splendor untold.' (St. Faustina, Diary 1231)

'Jesus, behold my heart which is for You a dwelling place to which no one else has entry.' (St. Faustina, Diary 1385)

'My goal is God... and my happiness is in accomplishing His will, and nothing in the world can disturb this happiness for me: no power, no force of any kind.' (St. Faustina, Diary 775)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Something Important Happened

Some lessons have stuck with me over the years. What I have called "the lesson of the lights" is one of those. 

Thanks to a friend, I think of this every Advent season. I share it now from our archives, with a bit of minor editing this time around.

Advent is only a few days old, and already Christmas decorations cover stores and windows and lawns. In Church we wait quietly, our spirits hushed, as light dawns slowly with the softness of sunrise. 

It is quite a different story out here... in the glittering, clashing, clattering clamor of the world.

I once spoke about this to my friend RG.  So much hubbub, and so soon!  Carols blaring, shoppers rushing... and so many lights.

RG looked at me with a wisdom born (I suspect) of having lived 25 years longer than I. "Did you ever think," he asked gently, "that every one of those lights is because Jesus came to us?"

Well, yeah, I said.  "But not everyone putting lights on their houses is doing it specifically to honor Jesus."  I was being very logical.  "Some may not even believe in Him." 

"Whether they believe in Him or not," said my friend, "they would not be putting up lights right now if Jesus had not come to the world." 

There would be no Christmas, no decorations, no special songs, no shoppers and gifters, no strings of lights on trees and houses, if Jesus had not come.

RG went on to say that when he saw Christmas lights, he thanked Jesus for coming to us.  I'm sure he seldom forgot this practice, for he was a man of prayer.  This holy man has now gone Home to God; he needs no more reminders. 

I, meanwhile, think every Christmas of his simple wisdom. 

"This would not be here if Jesus had not come."  The decorations, the cards, the lights - all shine forth the news that Something Really Important happened on this earth over 2000 years ago.

Something Important Happened, and we have not forgotten. 

Thanks be to God for the lesson of the lights.  


Monday, December 1, 2014

Enclosed in a Journey

I came across the following today. It is a brief reflection, scribbled when the idea of 'the cloistered heart' was still quite new.

I do not enter the enclosure of God's will in a once-for-all step. I don't bid farewell to the world and twirl merrily off into Dreamland. I choose the will of God, I implore His grace to keep me 'enclosed,' and then:  

I embark upon a journey.

There are hallways, hills, tunnels, valleys, stairs, entrances, walls, obstacles, gates, ladders, windows, shutters, ramps before me. I do not know what awaits my timid steps. 

There are doors and I must go through them. There are portals of circumstance still unseen. 

There is light here, and primarily this is the light of God's Word. It leads me on. There is the light of Church teaching as well, helping to make straight my paths. 'God's word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path.'  

If I am to travel deep into the will of God, I must embrace the finer - the finest - points of His will. 

Cloister of the heart is a journey into the depths, a trek into ever deepening surrender. I see basic boundaries today, but some - the boundaries and doors of unfolding circumstances - I cannot see.  They are hidden and obscure.

It is only by opening one door that I can journey toward the others.   

My cloister, therefore, is not a small enclosure.  It is as big and deep as the plan of God.  It is as wide as His love, as far-reaching as His call.   

I am enclosed in a journey.

I am traveling more deeply into the will of God.  


Top painting:  William Paxton, 1921, in US public domain due to age
Door photo in public domain
Bottom painting: A Procession in the Catacomb of Callistus

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Advent Window, Reopened

I never greet an Advent without remembering a much earlier one, a pivotal one, in which God began to reach me.  He did so not in spite of the Christmas glitz and commercialism all around, but through it.

That Advent, I was twenty years old........

(read the rest by clicking this line)

Top: Stannard, Christmas Still Life
Bottom: Franz Skarbina, Unter dem Weihnachtsbaum, digitally lettered

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Advent Linkup.

Monday, November 24, 2014

In All Created Things

'In all created things discern 
the providence and wisdom of God, 
and in all things give Him thanks.'

St. Teresa of Avila

Severin Roesen painting, digitally altered

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Holiday Heroics

The holiday season is almost upon us. Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas. We will cook, decorate, gather with family and friends. It's time for preparation, festivities, fun.

It can also be a time for heroics.

We talked, in our last post, about our call to be heroes of the faith in our everyday lives. I cannot think of a better season than this one for everyday heroism.

Such opportunities! And oh, how I have squandered them. For too many years, I've shoved aside chances to bake, chop, clean, serve, shop, plan and wrap heroically. I've been found grumbling instead of praying, resenting rather than thanking.

There is much to do in little time with little money. Some of us are surrounded by so many people that we want to run away to a quiet room. For others, the loneliness of yet another holiday can stab with the force of a sword.

In all of it, there are chances for heroism. I can offer up busyness or loneliness as prayer. I can complain about all this cooking and all this wrapping, or I can bring peace to others by simply keeping my mouth shut (for some of us, silence can be truly heroic).

And when I'm seated at Thanksgiving dinner next to that cousin who constantly, publicly, loudly criticizes my faith, I can stick up gently but firmly for Christ. True heroes have died for Him since the first days of the Church. I can die a little to myself by not scrambling to hide the fact that I truly believe in Jesus, and that I choose to live for Him today.  'To be criticized, denounced and despised by good men, by our own friends and relatives, is a severe test of virtue.' (St. Francis de Sales)

The season is almost upon us.  Let the Holiday Heroics begin.

Painting: Franck Antoine Bail, Carving the Pumpkin, 1910
This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup