A cloistered nun told me, some
years ago, that my life for God in the midst of the world was more difficult
than hers. At the time, I didn't think that was possible. I did not have to
rise every morning at 5:30, show up in chapel when a bell rang, and spend most
of each day in silence.
In the twenty-five years since Sister said this to me, I've gained a better
idea of what she meant. I believe she was saying that the framework of my life
was one in which it was difficult not merely to live, but tolive for God.
Which is, after all, the point of life... to live for God.
The life of a nun would be impossible for me, because I don't have grace for
it. Sometimes, however, I long for the framework of such a life. I long for
physical structure to securely fence me in and keep me from getting sidetracked
by things that are unimportant, frivolous or even sinful.
In the midst of a society that finds the very thought of living "for
God" repressive, fanatical, and politically incorrect, I find myself not
securely fenced in, but camped out and living on the fence. I
don't intend to embrace the world's standards, but in my attempts to blend in
with the rest of society, sometimes I just might find myself compromising.
The fence is where I settle in to watch a PG-13 movie while trying to close my
ears to the language and my eyes to "those scenes." It's where I
enter a party determined not to gossip, but wind up laughing along with those
who do. It is where I know I'm to stand up for Christ, for life, for morality,
for biblical truth - yet I pull back for fear of what others might think. In a
monastery, questionable movies would not be seen, and speaking ill of others
would be frowned upon. Distressing news items wouldn't be matters for debate,
but for prayer. God would be the center, there, of everyone's life.
I realize that religious life is not utopian; I do know this. But I would love
to live within a structure where prayer times are scheduled, outward
distractions are minimal, and God is never forgotten. The world is crazier than
ever at this point in time (yes, I realize that's an understatement), and
sometimes I would love to just hide away from the insanity. But my call is not
to do that. My call is to live for God, love others for God, and pray for God's
loving will to reign over all.
My call is to step off the fence and live fully, not just partly, for God.
"Faith is one foot on the
ground, one foot in the air, and a queasy feeling in the stomach." (Mother
"Great saints have often been made out of great sinners, but not one
was ever made out of a wimp." (Peter Kreeft)
"You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at
all." (St. Therese of Lisieux)
"Do not be satisfied with mediocrity." (Pope St. John Paul II)
"You want to do something for the Lord.. do it. Whatever you feel needs
to be done, even though you're shaking in your boots, you're scared to death...
take the first step forward. The grace comes with that one step and you get the
grace as you step." (Mother Angelica)
"Why don't you give yourself to God once and for all... really....
NOW!" (St. Josemaria Escriva)
'There is self-forgetfulness which is so complete that it really seems as though the soul no longer existed, because it is such that she has neither knowledge nor remembrance that there is either death or life or honor for her, so entirely is she employed in seeking the honor of God. It appears that the words which His Majesty addressed to her have produced their effect - namely, that she must take care of His business and He will take care of hers. And thus, happen what may, she does not mind in the least, but lives in so strange a state of forgetfulness that, as I say, she seems no longer to exist, and has no desire to exist - no, absolutely none - save when she realizes that she can do something to advance the glory and honor of God, for which she would gladly lay down her life.'
St Teresa of Avila
For fuller descriptions of St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle and "Mansions," see the following:
I once dreamed I was in an urban neighborhood at dusk,
making my way across back yards crammed with people. The yards were
narrow strips of land belonging to detached rowhouses standing side by
side. Everyone appeared to be waiting for something; perhaps a
baseball game, or fireworks on the fourth of July. Sounds of traffic surrounded us all.
My trek from yard to yard was halted when I reached a building extending
farther back than the others. It looked like any other building, but I
knew it was a church. There was an entrance facing me; a small, humble,
very plain side door. I opened it and stepped inside.
The interior was larger than I expected. Dark, cool, with walls and
floors of deep reds and browns. Every surface gleamed with a warm
patina, like stones worn smooth during years of prayer.
The overall sense was of a cavern, one lit only with candles. Small
clusters of burning white tapers kept vigil along the long walls.
By now it was dark outside, and I knew the people were still out there,
still packed in, still noisy, still waiting. From inside, however, I
could no longer hear them. There were no more sounds of traffic. I knew
only silence, and subtle scents of incense and beeswax, and a gently
growing awareness of someone here, on the edge of my knowing.
I had thought I was alone, all by myself in this silent church. Yet now I knew an unseen sense of Presence.
He was in this place; of course He was. I'd only needed to come away
for a moment from the noise, so I could hear Him. I needed to be where
His silence filled the air.
He had been waiting for me to stop and listen.
He had been waiting all along.
"I have a secret dwelling place, a sanctuary closed to the world and
occupied by God alone, where I can always say 'O my God! I belong to
You!' Neither afflictions, nor tempests, nor the clamour of the world,
can tear me away from this secret abode, from this hidden Sanctuary
where I can always converse with God, in a mysterious friendship which
is the beginning of Heaven." (The Living Pyx of Jesus, Pelligrini, 1941, p. 95)
'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
'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… we must live and act as if we were dwelling in a church in the presence of
the Tabernacle.” (The Living Pyx of Jesus)
I once wrote that compromise
does not fit well in a cloister. It does, however, knock daily at my
enclosure door. It makes sales pitches through the grille, some of which are quite enticing. It Won't Hurt Anything to Enjoy a Harmless Round of
Gossip, it assures me, perhaps adding a gentle nudge to Just Go Along
With the Crowd.
If I hope to live totally for God, I must battle temptations to
compromise. God has given clear directives
on how to live for Him, and frankly, most of what I encounter in the world
right now is the exact oppositeof these. Every day, I must
make my choices. Every day, I must face down the grinning, smooth-talking,
hand-offering, smartly-masked ogre of compromise, and I must take a stand.
It helps me to know that the battle is not a new one.
"The earliest monasticism was directed to the tendency in the church to
compromise with the world, to water down the strong wine of the Gospels to suit
the vulgar taste... Monasticism, in its development, was unmistakably on
the defensive against a worldly church" (Walter Nigg, Warriors of God, NY, Alfred A. Knopf,
1959, pp. 80-81)
"Mediocrity is the arch-enemy of Christianity." (Nigg, p. 47)
"The desert fathers fought the corrosion of mediocrity not in others,
but in themselves, which is what made them saints and not simply critics of
civilization and preachers of penitence." (Nigg, p. 47)
Compromise does not fit well in a cloister. If I hope to live
"enclosed in the will of God," I must see through the masks and boot
compromise out the door.
________________________________________________________________________ For Prayer and Reflection:
Do the above quotes strike
me in any way?
If I look for compromise
around me today, what masks do I catch it wearing?
Have I developed habits of
compromise in my life? Are there scriptures or prayers I can use to
"I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your
bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual
worship. 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 12:1-2)
'Come my loving Redeemer, and dwell within me during the day and night... Take the beats of my heart as adoration, love and gratitude throughout my life. Oh! May I breathe in Your courage, Your strength, Your charity, humility, obedience, patience and purity.
May I draw in Your Love, Your Spirit, Your Life. May You live within me while I live and toil and suffer for You alone.' from The Living Pyx of Jesus by A Religious, Pelligrini, 1941, p. 534
Painting at top: Enoch Wood Perry, Jr Painting at bottom: Winslow Homer
"Is this life of union a special vocation for priests, religious, Saints, privileged persons, and mystical souls? Not at all.
This trusting and tender union with God is the very foundation of the spiritual life. There is no exception made to that call of the Divine Master: 'Come unto Me!' and for those souls who might imagine that the labours, cares and sorrows of this life might hold them back, He adds: 'Come unto Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you!' There are hours when we are all mystics. We throw ourselves instinctively upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whenever sorrow or pain strikes us with 'a blow from God,' or when we feel the need of carrying our joys to a safe refuge."
from 'Listening to the Indwelling Presence' by a Religious, Pelligrini, 1940,
'My dearest Jesus, look with pity on me, your poor, weak child. My heart is cold, and my eyes are heavy; I really cannot pray, for I am so tired I can scarcely keep awake. You, too, were often weary during Your life on this poor earth of ours, so I know You understand just how I feel. Lord, if You will, You can keep me wide awake when I long to talk to You. You know I really do love You, and want You to set my heart aflame with a love so strong and tender, that even while my eyes close and my head droops and a drowsiness overpowers me, I shall find comfort in the thought that I am struggling and working for You.'
(from The Living Pyx of Jesus by A Religious, Pelligrini, 1941, pp.383-384)
'I gave the keys of my heart to Love - to Love on a blood-stained tree,
Whose Heart and Hands and Feet were pierced as a purchase-price for me,
Whose Head hung heavy beneath the crown which marked Him King of Grief.
I gave the house of my heart to Love as hospice for His relief.
And yet, when He comes to claim His own, to shelter Himself with me,
How often I fail to pierce the guise of the King Whose Throne was a tree.
How often I ask that He garb Himself with raiment befitting my whim -
How strange that I keep Him waiting to know if there's room for the likes of Him.'
(from The Living Pyx of Jesus by A Religious, Pelligrini, 1941, p. 57)
'The hermitage is a paradise of delight where the fragrant scents of the virtues are breathed forth like sweet sap or glowing spice-flowers.
There the roses of charity blaze in crimson flame and the lilies of purity shine in snowy beauty, and with them the humble violets whom no winds assault because they are content with lowly places; there the myrrh of perfect penance perfumes the air and the incense of constant prayer rises unceasingly.
But why should I call to mind these in particular? For the lovely buds of all the holy virtues glow there many-coloured, and graces flourish in an undying greenness - beyond the power of words to describe.
O hermitage! Delight of holy souls, unfailing in your inner sweetness.' St. Peter Damian
You may have noticed that lately I've been absent from behind these cloister walls. I wish I could say I've been away on a long vacation, but the truth is far less glamorous. I've spent the last few weeks in a cloister not of my own choosing... within the little "cell" of a hospital room.
I hope to tell you more, soon, about this adventure. (I know you won't be able to wait). In the meantime, this is just to say "Hi! I'm back!" And I hope you're having a blessed Easter season.
'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, thesoul is within the
blessed refuge, and the gates are closed on the confusion of lifewith
all its noise and tumult. It is secure against the bitternessand
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)
I was seven years old when I learned I had a soul.
This was where Jesus would come when I received Holy Communion, and I was to
prepare the place carefully. Sweep it clean and tidy, Sister instructed;
no sin allowed.
I pictured this item of my personhood quite vividly. I
saw it as oval shaped, pearly white, and resting in the center of my
chest. A venial sin would spot it, a mortal sin (heaven forbid) would
turn it black as a lump of coal. It was like a little house inside me,
where Jesus could come and rest.
I’m now many years past
seven. I no longer envision a white oval, shining like a pearl. I
do, however, marvel at the truth embedded in this simple childhood picture. “Here
I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears Me calling and opens the
door, I will enter his house and have supper with Him, and he with Me.”
What an astonishing
reality. There really IS a dwelling place inside me, set aside for God
Himself. A cloister of the heart, a sanctuary. And it’s not a
refuge for me alone.
In the days when He walked
the earth, Jesus found places of refuge. Certainly He was in need of
them, as He was hunted down, mocked, misunderstood, beaten, spat upon, and
finally killed. He found refuge in a womb, a manger, the arms of Mary and
Joseph, with friends, and in a little house in Bethany. In such places
Jesus was cared about and loved.
As we know,
misunderstanding of Jesus did not cease with His crucifixion. The world
has never, as a whole, reached out to embrace Christ and His teachings.
He is still “spat upon.” He’s discounted, laughed at, shunned in various ways –
often before our eyes. I may hear Him mocked this very day.. or
dismissed as unimportant. I might hear His Name used as a swear word.
If that happens, can I
remember to take a moment to offer a prayer of praise and love to Him in the
solitude of my heart?