Friday, December 30, 2011

freed from bleak midwinter

"A severe winter kills and destroys all the plants and flowers in the country... Sin, that sad and terrible winter of the soul, destroys all the holy works it finds there... (but) when sin is driven out, and the grace of Divine Love returns to the soul, not only the new affections which the return of this holy springtime produces bud forth into rich merits and blessings, but the works faded and withered under the harshness of the bygone winter of sin - as if freed from their mortal enemy - resume their strength and vigour and, as if raised from death, flourish anew and are fruitful in merits for eternal life."  (St. Francis de Sales)

(photo NS) 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Glorious Interruption

After a month of concentration on Advent and Christmas, I’m finding it tough to get back to where I was with regard to “exploring the cloister.”  Don’t get me wrong:  I absolutely love Christmas.  I savor the days of Advent anticipation, I enjoy preparing gifts, and I love meditating upon the birth of Christ.  I’m thrilled to watch my grandchildren being told that at last they get to find out what has been waiting under the tree.  But when it comes to many activities, the Christmas season constitutes… well…..  an interruption. 

Today it hit me.  That is exactly what Christmas is.  That’s 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, some men in the east also 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 sin and misery.  He opened to us the path to salvation and interrupted our hatred and our lack of peace.   

With Jesus' arrival in the flesh, God ripped through the fabric of time.    

Text not in quotes

Monday, December 26, 2011

prayer power

  no prayer, no power. 

a little prayer, a little power.  

                            a lot of prayer, a lot of power!                                


(public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, December 23, 2011

celebration waiting

The mystery of the Incarnation "is so exalted and so profound that we understand next to nothing about it.  All that we do know and understand is very beautiful indeed, but we believe that what we do not comprehend is even more so.  Finally, some day in Heaven above, we will grasp it fully.  There we will celebrate with an incomparable delight this great feast of Christmas, of the Incarnation."  (St. Francis de Sales)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

is there room?

Sometimes, at this time of year, a question drifts into my mind.  It's always the same. 

"Is there room in Your heart for Me?" 

I immediately think of innkeepers.  I think of a house in Bethlehem where travelers once lodged, where no room was found when the time came for Jesus to be born.

As a cloistered heart, I have said that my primary "apostolate" is that of making my heart a refuge for Jesus in the midst of a world which does not, on the whole, love and honor Him.  Christ is in my heart; this I know.  But sometimes I wonder.  What sort of "refuge" am I offering to Him?  Am I providing a place of welcome and adoration?  Or could it be that I've allowed my heart to become cluttered with so many other things that I have little room in my life for Christ Himself.

The inn in Bethlehem was not filled with "bad" people on the night Mary and Joseph arrived seeking shelter.  It had no room for the holy family only because others had gotten there first.

Does Jesus find little space in some of my days simply because the hours fill up with everything else first?

Do I get up in the morning and put off prayer until I get one thing accomplished, and then one more thing - and do I ever find that the day has sped by without my spending any time at all in communication with God?  I am deeply ashamed to admit that more often than I care to mention, this has been the case.

My heart appears to me, today, somewhat like a cluttered desktop.  Or perhaps like a cluttered manger, in which there is no room for even a tiny Babe.

I am ashamed of the clutter in my heart.  I'm much more ashamed of this than of the clutter that accumulates, piece by piece, upon my desktop.  And so I come today to Jesus, asking HIM to clear out all the distractions and (especially) the sin.  I ask our Blessed Mother, who so tenderly prepared a place for Jesus, to help prepare my heart to be a fitting refuge for my Lord.  May she re-arrange my priorities as one might arrange pieces of straw in a manger.

As my Christmas gift this year, I ask that the same be done for you.  I ask that all our hearts be prepared as places of loving refuge for the King and Messiah Whose birth we are about to celebrate.  The world did not welcome Him when He came to earth as an infant; the world does not welcome Him still.  You and I have the opportunity of welcoming Him in a world which does not do so.  You and I have the opportunity (and I think we would fall on our faces if we could see the full reality of it) to lovingly embrace Him.

Let our hearts prepare Him room.

Text not in quotes

Friday, December 16, 2011

our daily Christmas

"Celebrate the feast
of Christmas
every day, 
even every moment,
in the interior temple
of your spirit."

(St. Paul of the Cross)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

a manger filled with mercy

Today I received the following from a reader: 

(is not our heart)"a far lower habitation than the original Bethlehem manger? After all, it was mere wood or stone and incapable of sin. But we - how much we owe our Merciful Savior for all He endures out of love for us! Our stone cold forgetful hearts, our sinful thoughts that roll off our tongues unawares. Oh such endless mercy He gives...." (from Joan) 

I am grateful for permission to share Joan's insights.  I'm particularly aware, as I write this, of those thoughts that "roll off my tongue unawares."  A flip remark, a harsh word, a bit of gossip.... they can slide right off the tongue.  And then, often without so much as an "I'm sorry," I march that tongue forward to receive His Eucharistic Presence...

Oh yes... He gives such endless mercy.  He not only comes to us sinners; He cleans us as He arrives. "You can depend on this as worthy of full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." (1 Timothy 1:15) 

Such amazing mercy.  Such endless love.  It's what Christmas is all about.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Only a Manger

Mangers are not standard equipment inside monasteries.  As Christmas draws near, however, one begins to see them everywhere, even inside the monastery chapel. 

Once, long ago, there was a simple manger.  It was not unique among mangers; it was surely made of the most ordinary of materials.  Yet today this lowly manger is celebrated throughout the world in art, literature, music.  Why?  Because that un-unique manger was offered to God. It was thus transformed from a feeding trough into the very first resting place of our Savior upon His entrance into the world.  The manger so honored was unlikely to have been a brand new one.  Surely it was not altogether clean.  It may have been damaged from months or years of animals bumping against it, crowding around it, perhaps even chewing its edges as they ate.

My heart is not the most spotless, worthy, unmarred place that Christ could find in which to dwell. Yet He, Whose first resting place after birth was a lowly manger, has chosen to find a home therein.  As a “cloistered heart,” I want to create for Jesus a loving place of refuge in this world where He is so often resisted, forgotten, ignored.  I know I am a refuge unworthy of so great a King.  I am a person made of flesh, and my flesh has been tainted by the stains of sin. 

Imagine the tenderness with which Mary and Joseph prepared a humble bed of straw to receive the new Babe.  It was only a manger, but it was what they had.

It is only a heart, but it is what I have.  I can offer it to Jesus as once a manger was offered.  In this world there are hearts much greater and nobler than mine; hearts more valiant, courageous, sinless, unselfish.  But I cannot give anyone else’s heart to our Savior - I can only give my own.

At this holy time of year, I pray that Jesus can find refuge in hearts that, tattered and broken and stained though they may be, are willing to receive Him. 

May every heart prepare Him room.

“Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge it that you may enter in.  It is all in ruins; do you repair it.  There are things in it which must offend your eyes; I confess and know it.” (St. Augustine)

Text not in quotes

Friday, December 9, 2011

a virtuous 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.  Let us keep on always at a quiet little pace...”  (St. Francis de Sales, letter to St. Jane de Chantal)

(photo NS)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

because she said yes

"Mary said a total yes to God.  Thus she lived enclosure in His will fully.... All her plans for her life were put aside in favor of God’s.  Mary carried Jesus within her and she gave Him to the world - thus she is the perfect cloistered heart...." (from 'The Cloistered Heart,' p. 60)

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit finds joy in God my Savior.  For He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness; all ages to come shall call me blessed.  God Who is mighty has done great things for me; holy is His Name…" (words of Mary in Luke 1:46-50).

("Mystical Rose" photo © NS 2010)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

a letter to St. Nicholas

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)

(photo 2011 NS) 


Monday, December 5, 2011

the keynote hour

"Our waking hour is more important than we ever dream.  It has in itself the keynote of the day..

"Our first act of the will is the offering of the day with all its thoughts, words and actions..

"Jesus, make my heart, my very soul, one of the happiest homes You have... a home from which no one will ever dislodge You.."
 (from The Living Pyx of Jesus, Pelligrini)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

reclaiming peace

"First thing in the morning, prepare your heart to be at peace; then take great care throughout the day to call it back to that peace frequently, and, as it were, to again take your heart in your hand...

"If you happen to do something that you regret, be neither astonished nor upset, but,
having acknowledged your failing, humble yourself quietly before God and try to regain your composure... 

"Say to your soul: ‘there, we have made a mistake, but let's go on now and be more careful.’  Every time you fall, do the same." (St. Francis de Sales)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

the morning bell

"Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim Your praise." (Liturgy of the Hours, morning)

Like a nun or monk in a monastery, I have the intention of spending a good deal of time in my "choir stall...."  returning throughout the day to that inner place of prayer. 

But intentions are wispy things.  They drift by and are soon forgotten, being nothing more than daydreams until they're turned into actions.  I've found that I make the transfer from intention to action best by baby-stepping. So here's my plan.  I am going to try to work on one of the "times Sister goes to the choir stall" at a time, striving to incorporate that into my day before I work more intensely on other choir-stall-appointments. 
I had intended to begin with Lectio Divina, writing about what it means (to me) to give a block of time each day to God.  Yet I realize that not only I - but you - are in a season of ever increasing busyness and blessed interruptions, so I've decided to save that until after Christmas (consider this an announcement of "coming attractions!").  I will begin instead with the first light of morning, and do some personal baby-stepping toward remembering to pray as soon as I open my eyes each day.  I'm sorry to say that my lagging, sleepy mind needs reminders.  Often these are bits of paper taped to mirror or alarm clock calling me to PRAY!!!  These are my monastery bells, ringing out the news that I have the privilege of beginning another day with praise. 

Between whatever "baby step reports" or insights there may be in the days just ahead, I look forward also to doing some Advent postings of photos I've set aside for this time of year.  I hope you'll have time during this busy season to continue looking in, for I will be here!

God willing, I'll see you tomorrow.  May God grace us to begin the day in praise. 

Text not in quotes

(photo of light through trees by Linda M)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

in the choir stall

"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.