Friday, May 29, 2015

The Secret Behind Ironing

From a letter from our friend Rose:

'Ironing is the chore that always makes me feel closest to God. When I've done prayerful writing lately, it has been as a result of my reflections while I was ironing in front of my big windows, looking out over the fields behind our house.

My mother loved to iron. There were five of us little girls, all in a row, and my mother took great delight in ironing our little dresses with all the frills and lace and trim.

It wasn't until I had my own family that I discovered the secret behind ironing. It's a chore that must be done, yet it frees the mind to tend to things of the heart and soul while the hands keep busy.

I wonder if this is why my mother always seemed to smile while she ironed.....'


'We must try to converse with God in little ways while we do our work.' (Brother Lawrence) 

Painting: Edgar Degas

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Still Carrying The Fire?

Some years ago, it occurred to me that a person desiring to live totally for God might feel like someone standing with a candle in an artificially lighted room. We have found, in Scripture and Holy Mother Church, the fire of God's love.  Holding in our hearts this genuine, precious Light of truth, often we find ourselves in the presence of something that appears to be light, but that is no more fire than a light bulb is fire.  

We have all experienced "artificial light."  We live surrounded by it. The world is drowning in it. It is the "light" that says we're doing just fine without God. It's the "light" that, if it credits God for even existing, shoves Him to the periphery and makes its own way without Him. It reminds us, in one way after another, that we are now "enlightened." We have harnessed electricity, been to the moon, decided when life is valuable enough (to us) to be born and when it's useless enough (to us) to end. It's quite convenient and tidy, this artificial light. It reveals the ingenuity of mankind, and it's more appealing than a messy candle that burns to a nub as it carries the flame. It is today's light, self-sufficient and broad-minded, and certainly more sophisticated than the humble flame once carried by John, Peter, Paul, Benedict, Francis, Therese. 

I suppose we would feel quite foolish if we were to stand around in electrically lighted rooms holding candles. We would know people were talking about us behind their hands, probably snickering, perhaps feeling sorry for someone so silly as to stand with an old fashioned candle in a lighted room. 

But what if there were a storm, a lightning strike, a downed power line?  What if the room suddenly fell into darkness?  It's at such times that people dash about in search of candles. 

Storms come to everyone, at some time or other. The artificial light reaches only so far. Regardless of how bathed in self-sufficiency a person may be, eventually there is sickness, there are crises, there are times when darkness falls and the lights we've relied upon all of our lives flicker out. We've all heard of churches filling up after widespread disasters, for it is often during times of storm when people go in search of Real Light.  It is then that they look for those who carry it. 

As ones who live for God in the midst of the world, we are surrounded by light that is no light - or at best is temporary "this-world-light."  We might feel different from our neighbors if we're seen to be carrying the Real Thing.  We may be known as ones who don't hold the "popular" opinion, ones who live as if God actually exists, ones who go so far as to live as Jesus said to live.

If so, we can know we are not alone.  We can remember that God is with us, that the saints dealt with the very same thing, and that there are "carriers of the fire" all around the world, in this very age of the Church.

We can also know that God has us where He wants us, in our neighborhoods and workplaces and families. All around, there are people searching (whether they realize it or not) for living, breathing examples of the Real Thing.

When storms come to their lives, such persons might be relieved to find those who are still there, still standing firm, still caring. Still giving example. Still carrying the Flame. 

"Your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father."  (Matthew 5:16)


  


This was originally published in 2012. It is being linked with Theology Is A Verb and Reconciled To You for 'It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday'  
 
Painting: Marianne Stokes, A Rumanian Bridesmaid 
Photo of candle via Pixabay 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cloistered in Any Place


'How seldom do I remember 
that at any time, in any place,
I can find You, commune with You, 
by simply turning towards You 
the eyes of my soul.'


By 'A Religious,' LISTENING TO THE INDWELLING PRESENCE, Pellegrini, Sydney, 1940,  p. 55)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Before the Great and Glorious Day


"When the day of Pentecost came, it found them gathered in one place. Suddenly from up in the sky there came a noise like a strong, driving wind which was heard all through the house where they were seated. Tongues as of fire appeared, which parted and came to rest on each of them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them.... Peter stood up with the eleven, raised his voice, and addressed them...

'It shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out a portion of My Spirit on all mankind: your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Yes, even on My servants and handmaids I will pour out a portion of My Spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy. I will work wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below: blood, fire, and a cloud of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of that great and glorious day of the Lord. Then shall everyone be saved who calls on the Name of the Lord.'"

                         Acts 2:1-4 and 2:14-21


Painting of Pentecost: Botticelli
Painting of Eclipse: Howard Russell Butler, in US public domain due to age

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Revisiting the Choir Stall of My Heart

"I will sing and chant praise…" (Psalm 57:8)

It is morning in the monastery. Sister silently enters the chapel and takes her place in a choir stall, a chair made exclusively to be a place of prayer. 

As the hours move on, Sister will come back and back to the choir stall.  Mid-morning, afternoon, evening, just before bedtime:  here she returns to chant praise, participate in Mass, pray with Scripture, meet hour after hour with God. Sister begins and continues and ends her day here. She answers the bell’s call to prayer when she feels great and when she has a headache. She comes to the choir stall when she feels close to God, when she's distracted, and when her spiritual life seems barren and dry. 

I have learned that, in the cloister of my heart, I, too, 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.

There are no bells to call me to the choir stall. I must build reminders into my own life. For me, discipline is quite difficult; therefore, I find the following practices helpful. Actually, I find them personally necessary if I hope to keep my life focused and on track:

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 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).

Lord Jesus Christ, I ask You to form in me a habit of prayer.
Draw me to meet with You day after day,
no matter what my circumstances,
in the choir stall of my heart.


 
  


This post was originally published in 2011. It is being linked with Theology Is A Verb and Reconciled To You for 'It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday'
 

Monday, May 18, 2015

No Time Or Place To Pray?

'When the father and mother of St. Catherine of Sienna 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



Painting: Camille Pissarro,The Maidservant,1867

Friday, May 15, 2015

Visiting the Visitation: a Field Trip

When I came across the following video recently, I realized we haven't had a "field trip" here in awhile.

So let's take a(nother) look at the Visitation of Holy Mary, which was founded by Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal in France in 1610. 

One of the goals of the Order is to live "in profound humility toward God and great gentleness toward the neighbor." It is a beautiful (and immensely practical) goal to strive toward for those called to serve God in the midst of the world.





'Our Congregation should hold itself among the Congregations as the violet is amongst the other flowers - low, small, and subdued in colour; happy, because God has created it for His service, and to diffuse a little fragrance in the Church. Everything that tends most to God's honour and glory must be loved and followed above all things. This is the rule of all true servants of Heaven.' (St. Francis de Sales)

Monday, May 11, 2015

To Be A Bethany


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.”  (Revelation 3:20)

“Anyone who loves Me will be true to My word, and My Father will love him; We will come to him and make our dwelling place with him.”  (John 14:22)

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? 

“A cloistered heart accepts God’s grace to love Jesus Christ in the midst of a world that does not love Him; to embrace His will in a world which does not embrace it.  Thus the cloistered heart becomes a place of refuge not only for us, but for Christ Himself.  To create such a refuge is a primary part of the cloistered heart’s apostolate.” (from The Cloistered Heart (book)

“Jesus, here is my heart; let it be a little cozy resting place for yourself.”  (St. Faustina)

“Make my soul…Your cherished dwelling place, Your home of rest.  Let me never leave You there alone, but keep me there all absorbed in You, in living faith, adoring You.”  (Elizabeth of the Trinity)

"I want to repose in your heart, because many souls have thrown Me out of their hearts today." (Jesus to St. Faustina)

"I try always to be a Bethany for Jesus, so that He may rest here." (St. Faustina) 

Painting: Semiradsky, Christ, Martha, Maria

(the above is a combination of earlier posts from this blog)
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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Into My Mother's Hands

A particularly tender moment in a nun's profession is when she pronounces vows with her hands in those of Mother Superior.  "My heart was full of joy," wrote one such Sister, "as I pronounced these words from the vow formula, '...I vow to God into your hands Reverend Mother to live my whole life in obedience, without property, and in chastity.'" (Sister Mary Immaculata) 

"I vow into your hands...."

I read these words and immediately think of the total consecration to Mary according to St. Louis de Montfort:  "I, (name)_____, a faithless sinner, renew and ratify today in thy hands the vows of my Baptism..."

In whose hands are these baptismal vows being renewed and ratified?  Into those of the Blessed Mother. 

"I vow into your hands...."

"When first under Francis’ (de Sales) direction, Jane de Chantal, then a widow with four small children… took the Virgin Mary as the Abbess of the cloister of her own heart." (from Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal, Letters of Spiritual Direction by Thibert, Wright and Power, 1988, p. 41) 

"I vow into your hands...."

The abbess of a monastery is in every way a mother.  She leads those in her community; she nurtures their spiritual growth and oversees the care of their temporal needs.  She teaches, guides, counsels, prays, comforts, serves, loves, corrects, soothes…

We who wish to live cloistered in heart, subjected as we are to the world and its distractions, must have an abbess who truly cares about our personal stresses and trials.  We need an abbess who can help us live in the midst of the world and not be of it.  Ours must be a Mother who can nurture us, care for our lives of "enclosure," and show us what it means to say and become a total yes to God.

"Mary said a total yes to God.  Thus she lived enclosure in His will fully.  She embraced His will so totally that He became enfleshed in her.  She listened to Him more completely than any human ever has or will.  Sinless, she never stepped outside her enclosure.  She yielded fully to God’s will, abandoning herself utterly to God.  All her plans for her life were put aside in favor of God’s.  Mary carried Jesus within her as a baby and she gave Him to the world - thus she is the perfect cloistered heart." (from The Cloistered Heart (book), 1996)

"‘Behold thy Mother’ (John 19:26).  By these words, Mary, by reason of the love she bore them, became the Mother, not only of John, but of all men." (St. Bernadine of Siena)

"Honor, venerate and respect with special love the holy and gracious Virgin Mary who, being the Mother of Christ our Brother, is also in truth our very mother.  Let us then have recourse to her, and as her little children cast ourselves into her bosom with perfect confidence; at all times and on all occasions let us invoke her maternal love."  (St. Francis de Sales). 

"God could have given us the Redeemer of the human race and the Founder of the Faith in another way than through the Virgin, but since Divine Providence has been pleased that we should have the Man-God through Mary, who conceived Him by the Holy Ghost and bore Him in her womb, it only remains for us to receive Christ from the hands of Mary." (St. Pius X)

A Prayer:  Blessed Mother Mary, your "yes" was the door through which our Savior entered the world as Man, and so I thank you for that yes.  I ask your help that I, too, might say yes to all that God asks of me.  May I be given grace to do whatever He tells me.  May I be given grace to utter magnificats of praise in all of the circumstances of my life.  I ask you to teach and counsel me, to comfort and correct me, to lead me ever closer to your Son. 

Pray for me, Heavenly Mother.

Into your hands, I entrust my commitment to God.


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This is a re-post from July, 2014, slightly edited 
Photo of a profession at Tyringham Visitation Monastery, Massachusetts, provided by C Wells


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Who Needs It?


"'I'm not a monk,' you might say. 'I have a wife and children. I have to take care of  my household.'  But this is what ruins everything - your thinking that only monks need to read the divine Scriptures. You need it much more than they do. Those who live in the world and are wounded every day have the most need of medicines."

      St. John Chrysostom

Sunday, May 3, 2015

With Safety, You Ring Me Around

"The world is not safe from sin and evil - even the body is not safe from harm. But within the cloistered heart there is refuge. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. In the cloister I am always safe." (from cloistered heart book)

Someone asked recently if I could share some of my favorite "pieces of grillwork." I am delighted to begin doing so, particularly as we continue looking at the refuge we have in Christ.

In addition to scripture verses, I'm also mixing in one or two appropriate quotes from a few saints. After all, if anyone ever found the "view through the grille," it was they.

"The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the just man runs to it and is safe.”  (Proverbs 18:10) 

"You are my shelter; from distress you keep me.  With safety, You ring me around." (Psalm 32:7) 

"O Jesus, I am locking myself in Your most merciful heart as in a fortress, impregnable against the missiles of my enemies.” (St. Faustina Kowalska, Diary, #1535)

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.  When you pass through the water, I will be with you; in the waters you shall not drown.  When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; the flames shall not consume you."  (Isaiah 43:1-2)

"Happy is the soul established in God ... The winds of the storm are powerless to shake her.” (St. Jane deChantal)

"We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his decree." (Romans 8:28) 

"I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) 

"Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)

"The present burden of our trial is light enough, and earns for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. We do not fix our gaze on what is seen but on what is unseen. What is seen its transitory; what is unseen lasts forever." (1 Corinthians 4:17-18)

"I am sure of this much: that He who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)


"In Him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything."  (Philippians 4:13)

"There is cause for rejoicing here.  You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ appears."  (1 Peter 1:6-7)

"Count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial. Realize that when your faith is tested this makes for endurance.  Let endurance come to its perfection so that you may be fully mature and lacking in nothing."  (James 1:2-4)

"'Even though I walk through a dark valley, I fear no evil, for You are at my side." (Psalm 23:4)

"Be firm and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9)

"We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed; full of doubts, we never despair.  We are persecuted but never abandoned; we are struck down but never destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

"The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is my life's refuge; of whom should I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Thus we do not fear, though the earth be shaken and the mountains quake to the depths of the sea; though its waters rage and foam and mountains totter at its surging. The Lord of hosts is with us.  Our stronghold is the God of Jacob." (Psalm 46:2-4) 

"If Christ’s love is the enclosure wall (and we know that it is, for He has said that ‘My beloved is a garden enclosed), He encloses you; He IS the enclosure.”  (Mother Mary Francis PCC, from “Walls Around the World”)

   


Painting: August Eduard Schliecker

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Place of Refuge

I knew, when the idea of the cloistered heart first came to me in the 1980s, that monasteries of nuns or monks have special places not open to outsiders.  I realized that these areas were called cloisters.  It was enough information to get me started.  “The whole idea of a cloistered heart,” I wrote in 1988, “is that the part of me referred to as the ‘heart’ – meaning my spirit, who I really AM – should be detached from the world in its attachment to the Creator of the world." 

A place of refuge, no matter where I happened to be.  A portable fortress, a place inviolate - where I could remain with Jesus in a doctor's office, a traffic jam, a restaurant, a mall.  It was an appealing idea.  It was also (this being most important) theologically sound. "The heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live... 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. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2563) 

The cloistered heart 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. 

"Remember… to retire occasionally into the solitude of your heart while you are outwardly engaged in business with others.  This mental solitude cannot be prevented by the multitude of those who surround you.  As they are not about your heart, but only about your body, your heart remains alone in the presence of God.”  (St. Francis de Sales).

(This is a gently edited repost from our 2011 archives, primarily taken from the Cloistered Heart book)

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