Saturday, December 29, 2012

To Avoid All That Prevents...

We are coming to the end of one year and the start of another.  It's a time when many of us stop and look into our own selves, engaging in a bit of "spiritual checking up."  How am I doing in my efforts to live for God?  How is my prayer life?  How are things in my "cloistered heart?"

I had not given much thought to any such inventory this year.   And then I came face to face with the following sentences.  I am not overstating things when I say that these stopped me in my tracks.  If I could have one set of questions to help me discern God's Voice, and whether or not any particular inspirations are from Him (or from whomever else), I think this would be it...  

"Have I grown familiar with the Voice of Christ?  
Do I recognize it in the depths of my heart, 
urging me on to give Him all He asks of me? 

Is there any other voice with which I am more familiar, 
     any voice discordant with the Voice of Christ?

Is there a voice urging me to assert my rights?

Is there a voice crying out that I have been wronged, 
     treated unfairly, unjustly?

Is there a voice bidding me to seek praise and notice and appreciation?  

Is there a voice urging me to go along the road of least resistance, 
     discouraging me in my efforts to become spiritual?

And what is my Divine Master saying all this time? ...

He could not be heard amid all this confusion, 
     for His Voice is sweet and soft and low.

His gentle voice is heard only by the soul who listens
     and who, in consequence, 

     applies herself 
     to avoid all that prevents
her hearkening to that low, soft Voice."

(from "Listening to the Indwelling Presence," compiled by a Religious, Pellegrini, Australia, 1940, p. 60)

Click this line to leave comments in The Parlor. 

Painting by James Abbot McNeill Whistler

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Monthly Roundup

Blog Awards

Thank you so much to Little Flower's Crown of Roses for the blog award!  I accept with much gratitude, and because I've already written about this award at my other blog, I hope it's okay that I link this back to that post (rather than writing it again here).  A click on this line will take readers to that information.

This also gives me a golden opportunity!  As I was listing blogs to pass the award on to before, I forgot several that would normally have been there.  In a couple of instances, the bloggers had taken a brief "break" (and apparently so did my memory!).   But my friends are writing again, and I am so thankful, for I'd missed their inspiration.  So now I joyfully pass this award to the following inspiring bloggers:

Daughter of the King   at
Little Jesus and Me   at 
The Beautiful Gate at 
Thoughts on Grace at

What a grand opportunity we have, as bloggers, to share the love of Christ... as far and wide as He wishes.  May we glorify Him greatly in the year(s) to come.

Click this line to leave comments in The Parlor. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Every Moment

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Heart at His Feet

How beautiful is the poor little Babe!   
I beg you to take your repose close to Him,
  because He will not fail to love your heart just as it is,
  with all its lack of tenderness and of feeling.
 Do you not see how He receives the breath of the oxen
and the ass, which have no feeling at all?   
How will He not appreciate the operations of your poor heart,
which, even though it lacks tenderness, yet throws itself
 resolutely and firmly at His feet, pledging itself
to be always a faithful servant of His divine Heart.

                                                                                 St. Francis de Sales

Saturday, December 22, 2012

This Night

In this night of reconciliation, let none be angry or gloomy.  
In this night that stills everything, let nothing threaten or disturb.  
This night belongs to the sweet One; let nothing bitter or harsh be in it...
In this day of gladness, let us not spread sadness.
St. Ephraem the Syrian


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

If You Are Caught Up....

The river of time sweeps on,
but there,
like a tree planted in the water,
is our Lord Jesus Christ.
He became man, 
willing to plant Himself 
beside the river of time. 

If you feel yourself 
drifting down to the rapids, 
lay hold of the tree; 

If you are caught up
in the love of the world,
hold on to Christ. 

For you He entered into time, 
but He did not cease to be eternal.
                                 St. Augustine

Painting:  St. Antony of Padua Holding the Baby Jesus

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On to Spritual Love

"I think the chief reason why the unseen God willed
to appear in the flesh and mix with men
was that He might draw to Himself the love of those
who were not able to love except in a carnal manner.
And so: He could lead them on to spiritual love." 

St. Bernard of Clairveaux 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Great Expectation

Like a secret told by angels,
getting known upon the earth,
is the Mother's expectation
of Messiah's speedy birth. 

F. Faber, "Our Lady's Expectations"  

Painting:  Sassoferrato, Our Lady in a Garland of Roses

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Monthly Roundup 

Consider Joseph

"Consider St. Joseph.  He not only received a very great measure of all the virtues, a reflection of those practiced by the most holy virgin, his wife, but also had a divine treasure, the Infant Jesus, His Lord and Master, Who had been entrusted to Him...  he was His foster father and the spouse of His mother; yet he kept himself hidden, kept a low profile, so as to appear as an ordinary man."            St. Francis de Sales

Painting: Anton Raphael Mengs, The Dream of St. Joseph

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Christmas Oasis

The Cloistered Heart strives to provide a touch of "spiritual oasis" in the midst of the world.  Therefore, our posts from now until Christmas will be reminders of what this holy season is all about.  These will be brief quotes, prayers and reflections during this busy time.

For now, I hope it's not too late to join the Catholic Carnival bloggers at This, That and the Other Thing.  I am linking this line to the post Is There Room in My Inn.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent.  In monasteries throughout the world, there is now a hush of holy anticipation.

As those behind enclosure walls prepare their hearts to celebrate the world's most glorious birthday, so shall we......

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Is There Room in My Inn?

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 seems, today, like a manger filled with clutter.  Sometimes it's as if there's no room in it for the most important Person in the universe.   Just imagine the "logic" of that.  And so I come today to Jesus, asking HIM to clear out all the distractions.   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; it does not welcome Him still.  You and I have the opportunity of welcoming Him in a world that does not do so.

May our hearts prepare Him room.

This post is a slightly edited version of the one published here on December 21, 2011.

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This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Monthly Roundup 


Monday, December 10, 2012

The Advent Window, Illustrated Version

Having just written about the Advent window of opportunity, today I was awestruck to see this perfect example of its opening.  Special thanks to Barbara for sharing this amazing video. 

I envision the lead singers as external illustrations of what cloistered hearts can be, in various ways, in the midst of the world.

I ask you...

Can we be cloistered.... here?......

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Advent Window

The Advent I wrote of in my last post was a season of non-stop reminders.  I almost couldn't get away from them.  Switching on a radio, I would catch an old familiar carol, one I'd heard every Christmas since childhood.  This time, however, the words sounded... different.

Rounding a corner, I picked up the tinny sound of Santa's bell as he stood beside a fat black kettle.   Sales clerks wished me merry Christmas.  A nativity scene was, as always, featured on the Court House steps.

Recalling that special season over these last few days, I've realized something.  That is:  the touches of God I had that Advent didn't happen in spite of the commercialism of this time of year.  They happened right in the midst of it.  They happened, in some instances, because of it. 

The song that so moved me with its lyrics of "Jesus the Savior is born...."?  It was in an advertisement  for tires.  Pictures of Baby Jesus were glued to dime store displays, and on posters announcing concerts and events.  Songs were piped into stores to draw customers, and sometimes the same lyrics played over and over.  O come, let us adore Him.  Adore Him.  Adore Him.  (that Advent, I almost did).  

I've heard discussions lately about whether or not Christmas should be celebrated before the 25th.  There is so much commercialism, the argument goes - and yes, I agree that this is the case.  In the Church, Advent is a time for quiet, for prayer, for gentle shades of purple.  In the physical monastery, hearts wait in hushed anticipation.

Most of us live, however, out in the red and green neon of the world.  We're where bells jingle, songs jangle, nerves frazzle, patience frays.  But during all of the glittery hype (I've realized), there is a moment of blessing.  In the secular, godless, "we're-doing-fine-by-ourselves" world, there appears in this season a window of opportunity.  A slot, a crack in the Everyday, through which the call of God might be heard through carol or card.   

In recent years, we have seen that crack narrow.  The Court House steps of my childhood haven't seen a nativity display in years.  Store clerks wish me "happy holidays" at best.  But even now, somewhere between shoppers lined up for black Friday and the queues awaiting after-Christmas sales, there is still a window of opportunity.  A time when someone rushing through a store might catch the strains of an old familiar carol, one she's heard every Christmas since childhood.   Yet this time, the words sound.... different.  She remembers pictures of a babe in a manger, and suddenly her heart is stirred.

This is a season when we can acknowledge (like at no other time) the One Who was born for us. After all, few of our friends would toss out cards that happen to have nativity scenes on them.  Neighbors visiting our home won't be offended by the words of "Silent Night."  It's all just part of the season, part of the holidays, part of the fun.

The Church will begin Christmas music and celebrations on the 25th, but out here in the world, the Advent window is now open.

This is when scenes and songs normally found only in Church can spill out into the world.  And who knows?   Someone years from now might look back on a card I sent her this season, and recall that 2012 was her own special Advent. 

We just never know.

Monday, December 3, 2012

That Advent

In my recent post about "the call," I wrote this of my college (and college-age) years: "My attendance at Sunday Mass drifted from "regular" to "occasional," and I stopped praying altogether.  Yet God still had a way of popping into my mind at unexpected times.  At twenty one, I began to feel a renewed interest in faith and went back to attending Mass on a weekly basis..."

Not wanting to lengthen the brief sketch, I left out the part between "unexpected times" and "at twenty one."  This "left out part" was actually quite a pivotal time in my life; a span of weeks when major changes began developing.  These seemed subtle at the time.  A song heard on the radio, a bell rung by a Main Street Santa; Baby Jesus on a Christmas card....

It was the season of Advent.

I was in my "God doesn't bother me and I don't bother Him" phase.  There was, you see, so much to do.  Friends to hang out with, boys to date, parties to go to, skirts that had be found to match the sweaters that matched the stockings that went with the shoes. No time to think of what was happening outside my seemingly limitless snowglobe world.  Certainly no time to think about God.

But it seems, that Advent, that God was thinking of me.

It was a string of little things.  "O Come O Come Emmanuel," in Latin, caught on the radio... I hadn't expected that and it touched me.  There was another song as well, one I'd never before heard, that sang of "Jesus the Savior," and when I heard His Name, well ... something just.... happened.  Like a gentle thawing in my heart.  I couldn't explain it.  I wouldn't have admitted it.  I didn't understand it.

Trying to go about my normal life, I found Him popping in.  Like when I selected Christmas cards to send, and found my normal humorous picks unappealing.  Even Santas and elves left me cold.  I chose instead a painting of Baby Jesus on a bed of straw, holding a lamb, against a gray background.  It may have been the plainest, simplest greeting card ever made, and I absolutely loved it.  I even had a few tears as I signed my name to the cards.  I didn't understand that, either.

At the very beginning of this "season," God got my attention in a way that I found (if I let myself think about it) particularly unusual.  I wrote about this just over a year ago, in a post I called Before the First Bell.  A foreshadowing of the cloistered heart idea?  Certainly it seems, now, to be so. 

The fruit of that possible foreshadowing, and the Advent following right upon it, was excellent.  I once again went to Sunday Mass on a regular basis.  A few months later, I met the young Catholic man who would become my husband.  And all I can say now is:  I'm glad God had a way of popping into my mind.  I'm glad He chose to "bother me," even (especially) in unexpected times.

I am so thankful for that Advent.

Painting:  Anders Zorn, Vallkulla detail, US public domain

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Veni, Veni Emmanuel

"The Babe
Who is about to be born
does not come on earth
to have an easy life
or to enjoy spiritual
and temporal comforts,
but to fight,
to mortify Himself, 
and to die."
                    St. Francis de Sales

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The First Call

Boris Kustodiev, US public domain due to age
I fell in love for the first time when I was six years old.  Coming from an "unchurched but Catholic-on-the-books" family, I did not learn of Jesus until I entered first grade.  I'm forever grateful to my parents for sending me to Catholic school, for there I learned of this wonderful Person Who truly loved me.  I could not help but love Him in return, and in fact I was so taken with Him that as soon as I could more or less spell, I scribbled His Name all over my schoolbooks (I had a teenaged sister who wrote names of boyfriends on her books, so I knew how that was done).

Jesus lived in a golden box way up in the front of Church.  I didn't understand how they fit Him in there, but that didn't really matter to me.  Sister said that's where He was and - even better than that!  In spring, when school was almost out for the year, I'd be receiving my First Communion and somehow Jesus would come to my heart in a special way.  Oh my.  I didn't know how such a thing could be, but at times I was breathless thinking about it.

Sometimes I would sneak into the empty Church during recess.   I'd slip away from the other kids and run along the alley between my school and Church, and I'd tug open the gigantic wooden door and tiptoe into quiet.  It was perfect.  Just me, all by myself; and way up front, there He was.  Sometimes a lady or two might be in there, kneeling in a pew with a prayerbook, a felt or straw hat covering her head.  I would hide lest I be discovered.  If there weren't any grownups, I sometimes got brave enough to go as far as to a back pew.  I don't remember praying, exactly.  I just looked at the gold box in the distance, and breathed in whiffs of beeswax candles and lingering incense, and listened to muted sounds of traffic from the streets around.

And what about this young love - was it lasting?  I am happy to say that, through most of my grade school years, yes it was.  Oh, I got distracted, certainly.  Childhood games and pettiness, selfishness and materialism and fashion and crushes and pre-teen drama:  all took their toll.  The fact that I was the only one in my family who went to Sunday Mass (my dad drove me to church and came back to get me) wasn't easy.  I felt like the oddball in my family, so learned to hide any interest I had in God. And my interest in Him was far from constant; sometimes it disappeared for months on end.

"Jesus Looking Through a Lattice" by James Tissot
But always He was waiting.  Always He was watching, even when I lost sight of Him.  He began calling early, and I thank Him for His persistence. 

I am glad to be able to say:  Jesus Christ was my first love. 


"Here He stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattices."  (Song of Songs 2:9)

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Monday, November 26, 2012


Through the early 1980s, the Sisters I referred to in the last two posts held prayer meetings in their monastery.  Because these nuns were semi-cloistered and once ran a girls' school, they had a number of  "uncloistered" areas in their buildings.  One of these was a parlor, where the meetings were held.

This parlor was painted in pastels.  Its chairs and sofas were overstuffed, the lighting was soft, there was an old (unlighted) fireplace.  Everything contributed to a gentle feeling of home.  Sisters and laypeople gathered to pray in low voices; the singing was heartfelt and serene.  There was often a bit of conversation about our efforts (in and out of cloister) to bring glory to God.

After one of these meetings, I tiptoed out with a friend to begin the hour's drive back to our city (we always seemed to tiptoe, as if not to disturb the hush).  We decided to stop for pizza on our way home, at a little place not far from the monastery's grounds.

Stepping into the pizzeria, I was startled by the stark, sudden contrast.  My senses were assaulted by the twangy blare of a jukebox, by shouts and insults and bawdy jokes yelled across the room.  I wanted to flee, rush out, race back to the quiet of the monastery.  The "wanting" was a literal ache inside me.  I yearned to be back in the quiet, gentle, holy presence of ones who had given their lives utterly to God.

I began to think of the step it takes to walk into the cloister once and for all, to leave everything on one side of the grille and take up residence on the other.  It was a "break" I suddenly found enviable for its totality.

I don't know when the phrase "the cloistered heart" actually came to me.  But I look back at that night, and that visit to the noisy pizzeria, as the time when the cloistered heart was truly birthed in my soul.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

That Romantic Phrase

As I wrote here a week ago, I have answered the call.  Since the amazing day when I knew that Christ Himself was real and very Present, I have - by His sheer grace - been striving to live for Him.

In the mid 1980s, a new way of looking at my personal call began to form.  At first it was a wispy, vaporous, vague idea - no more than a phrase, really, that sent thoughts of incense scented hermitages fluttering through my mind.  I told no one about it, because I thought the very phrase sounded like the title of a romantic novel.  I said this once to the nun who'd had the "little dream" about me years before (by the 1980s we'd become good friends).  Sister looked at me solemnly and said "that's not off the mark."  God's call to us, and our response, she explained, is the greatest romance the world has ever known.  

While it took me several years to speak of the "romantic phrase" to anyone, I did refer to it in personal writings for my eyes alone.  "Most people do not title their journals," I wrote on February 26, 1985, "yet I want to name the record of my life from this moment forward.  May the Lord grant that I might live up to the name - therefore titling my life, as this book, 'The Cloistered Heart.'"

I thank God for that "romantic phrase," which grew into a monastic analogy complete with grillwork and enclosure and boundaries and all the facets with which we've now become familiar.  It is a phrase that grew from a longing, and the longing grew from a clash of "cultures," and the clash was one I felt for the first time in a noisy restaurant.  Tomorrow, God willing, I will share more about that clash.

In the meantime, I'm thankful that I am - and you are - called to be part of the greatest romance the world has ever known.


Sunday Snippets

This weekend I'm linking up with "Sunday Snippets, a Catholic Carnival," sharing my account of how God drew me to faith in Him. I have this one post to link:   The Call

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Call

It was as insistent, sometimes, as a telephone ringing.  A persistent "come… come… come" that I couldn’t quite ignore.  Walking by the stairs leading up to the chapel of my high school, I almost always sensed that pull.  I imagined I felt the way steel might in the presence of a strong magnet.  Only, steel would not try to pull away as I often did.

I was eighteen.  The year before, rather quietly, God had begun to make Himself real to me, and I found I wanted to grow closer to Him.  So I had left public high school for a Catholic girls’ academy taught by semi-cloistered nuns.  In this place of peace and stillness a path was cleared for the Lord’s gentle voice to get through to me.  At first I stopped long enough to listen.  But as the school year progressed, I became more and more afraid of what the Lord was actually calling me to do.

This concern was particularly striking one day when my Speech teacher stopped me after class.

"I had a little dream about you last night," Sister said with a gentle smile.  "I dreamed you joined our Order here…" 

I was suddenly aware of a hammering in my chest and ears, and of heat rising in my cheeks.  I think I managed to murmur something halfway coherent as I hurried away, wondering "what is God trying to tell me?  Was that merely an idle dream that Sister thought I’d find amusing?"  Or was it something else.  Everyone I’d known who appeared to really love the Lord seemed to be in a convent or serving as a priest.  Surely God didn’t call anyone as I’d felt Him calling me unless it was to be a Religious.

I had something different in mind for my life.  A husband, children, and perhaps a career in the Arts - these were my goals.  Becoming a nun wasn’t exactly on my itinerary.  I wanted to serve God, but what if He asked for what I then considered the ultimate sacrifice?

I dealt with this the only way I thought possible.  I began to ignore the "nudges."  This was not hard to do, for there were so many things to interest an active eighteen year old girl.  It didn’t take long at all before it seemed any sense of a "call" was gone.

Perhaps I felt relief when seeds of unbelief were planted during my college years.  After all, if God wasn't there, I wouldn't have to concern myself with what He did or did not ask of me.  I didn’t believe or dis-believe at that point; I merely developed a rather convenient "God doesn’t bother me and I don’t bother Him" philosophy.  The only trouble was that God did bother me, more than I dared admit to myself.  My attendance at Sunday Mass drifted from "regular" to "occasional," and I stopped praying altogether.  Yet God still had a way of popping into my mind at unexpected times. 

At twenty one, I began to feel a renewed interest in faith and went back to attending Mass on a weekly basis.  I even made attempts at prayer.  I became involved in the activities of the Catholic student center at my University, and it was there that I met the young man I married.  For years after our wedding I considered myself a good Catholic.  I never missed Mass on Sunday, I was free of mortal sin, so I figured I was pretty well off.

God was totally unreal to me, however.  I prayed only rarely, and spent much of my spare time reading books on secular philosophy and pop psychology and "the meaning of life" (those basically making a case for life having no meaning whatsoever).  Seeds of unbelief sown years earlier thus found a medium for growth. 

I don’t know when it first dawned on me that I no longer believed in God at all, but in order to keep from shaking my husband, I kept quiet about it.  My family had no idea that I sat at Mass Sunday after Sunday wondering "how educated people could believe all this." 

And then something happened.  Now, many years later, I can only look upon this sudden occurrence as a breakthrough of the grace of God.

To my surprise, I prayed my first prayer in years.  I was somehow nudged to say, aloud, "God, I don’t believe in you, but if you’re real, and if you can hear me, I’m asking you to show me once and for all who or what you are."  And I told him that if he did this, I would follow him - whatever he was.

I felt utterly absurd, as if I'd just spoken to the air.  But I did have a sense that something had begun.

It was a sporadic beginning.  I started reading everything I could find about great religions of the world.  Christianity?  Yes, that too - but only in an encyclopedia.  After all, I’d been raised in Catholic schools - I figured I knew all there was to know about that one.  As far as what I was finding in my many other books... it seemed I just kept hitting brick walls. 

A few weeks after that first prayer, however, I happened to spot a Bible on my bookshelf.  It occurred to me that this particular title had been a bestseller for quite a few years, and I had never even read it.  A major literary lapse!  I should at least pick it up and have a look.  After all, what could it hurt…?

I opened to the gospel of Matthew and began to read. 

Several days later, I had read through to the gospel of John.  I don’t know if my mind grasped a thing, but some part of me seemed to somehow be "absorbing."

I read in stolen moments.  And then the most surprising thing happened.  I found that rather than merely reading a nice historical account, I was in fact meeting someone.  It was as though He stepped right out of the pages, out through the thees and thous of the translation, and in some un-voiced way spoke to me.

The sense was of a voice I knew from sometime long ago, saying "come…  come… come…"

This time I said yes.

I told Him I didn’t really understand what was happening to me.  I had no idea how I could have come to believe it.  I only knew that Jesus Christ was right there, in the room with me.  I knew I believed in Him, I knew I loved Him.  I was willing to follow Him anywhere. 

Things changed after that, certainly.  I wanted to pray, I wanted to read the Bible, I wanted to love God and everyone around me.  I wanted to meet others who loved Jesus as I did, so I prayed to be led to them.... and I was.

In time, one of these new friends was asked to provide music for a meeting in a town not far away.  As it "happened," this was scheduled to take place at the convent/monastery where I’d gone to high school.  My friend asked me to go with her.   I considered this invitation for awhile before giving a response. 

I had never been one of those who went back to visit the Sisters after graduation.  By now, I felt nervous at the very thought of returning.  But with my chest and ears hammering, I told my friend yes.  

We walked in the door right beside the stairs leading up to the chapel.  I literally gasped at the still-familiar sight.  It was just as I’d remembered.  The banisters with their warm patina were just the same, as were the creaky wooden floors.  Even though the Sisters were not teaching school there anymore, I half expected a young girl in uniform blazer and regulation saddle shoes to tiptoe down the hall at any moment. 

We gathered in what had been the students’ refectory for the meeting.  Sisters filed in quietly, and I was busy searching their faces for one I could recognize.  Nope: not even one. 

Before long, the laypersons and nuns assembled into small groups.  In mine, there was one Sister who seemed too young to have been here when I was a student.  So why was I feeling a growing sense of recognition?  It was as though she reminded me of someone I’d once known. 

It was when this Sister came over to me after the meeting that I realized she had been one of my teachers;  a kind, encouraging soul who’d once told me I should consider a career in Speech.  My mind suddenly saw her standing before me, smiling, saying "I had a little dream about you last night.  I dreamed you joined our Order here..."

Had the Lord been calling me when I was eighteen?  Certainly.  And I am quite sure that if I’d stopped to listen, I would have been led to the exact vocation He had ready for me:  that of wife and mother.  The fruit of my marriage has been wonderful, and I do not doubt that it was my call.  I did err at eighteen, however, when I did not give God so much as a chance to "speak."

As it was, He kept trying to get through, year after year, while my line stayed busy.

Thank God I finally stopped to listen, and to realize that I could belong to Him even though I wasn't living in a convent.

I have answered the call. 

This post is an edited version of the article "The Call," originally published in a Catholic magazine no longer in print.  This edition is © 2012 Nancy Shuman.

A Preview

"My God, Jesus my love, uncreated Goodness, what would have become of me if You had not drawn me to Yourself?"  (St. Gertrude)

Later today (or tomorrow at the latest), I hope to put another post on here.  That one will be longer than normal, so I'm writing this introduction separately.  

Because scripture is our current ongoing topic, I feel it's time to share my basic "testimony," or at least the bare bones of such.  You see, it was through scripture that I came to faith in Christ. 

I am presently cutting down an article originally published in 1981.  Since the magazine is no longer in publication, and since I wrote the article, I figure no one will mind if I edit it, making it fit more into post-size..  and hopefully I will be freshening it up just a bit!

In retrospect, I find this article (the first I ever wrote) thoroughly "cloistered heart."

One way to "carry the fire" of God's truth into the world is to share how we, ourselves, have found it.  As for me, I was agnostic during most of my 20s, thinking that if there were any kind of "god" at all, "it" was nothing more than something akin to electricity.  In a little while, I will share what happened to change my mind.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It's Time....

I am not writing a typical post today, yet I feel there is something to say.

I suggest that we re-visit To Carry the Fire (click this line)....

And that we take a few minutes to listen to these lyrics...

Then that we carry in our hearts and voices and actions the blazing, brilliant truth of Jesus Christ.  We don't have to look far to find those who are confused, those who've been told that lies are truth and truth is lies, those persons and nations and parts of the world who are in desperate need of prayer.  

There is no time to waste.  Let's go light our world. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

He Found the View

St. Stephen was a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit.   He was chosen to be a waiter of tables, thus freeing the apostles to spread the word of God.  I'm sure he felt deeply honored to be called into a servant's role.   

I, too, am called to be a servant.  Honored to be so?  I'm working on that part.  There have been times when I've felt like "waiting tables" has actually been my sole occupation, on those days when cleaning up from one meal merged right into preparing another.  I would have done well, when my children were small and it seemed I was always "feeding," to have thought about the service of Stephen.  As it was, I simply knew of him as a martyr.

Reading Acts 6 and 7 today, I found a number of things to love about Stephen.  He was deeply spiritual and prudent, he spoke with wisdom; and when he was falsely accused, his face "seemed like that of an angel."  He fearlessly spoke the truth of God, and those who listened were stung to the heart (Acts 7:54).  But did they repent?  It appears not, for they ground their teeth in anger.

And then, as we know, they stoned him.

What does this have to do with living as a cloistered heart?  I would say:  pretty much everything.

I am particularly struck by two main things about St. Stephen.  First:  he was willing to humbly serve by waiting on tables.  At the same time, he fed spiritually, freely sharing the truth of Christ.

Second:  If anyone ever "viewed and responded to circumstances 'through the grille,'" it was Stephen.  Even as his persecutors were grinding their teeth at him, he boldly exclaimed "'Look!... I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God's right hand."  I am sure this acute view of reality buffered the saint's agony as stones were hurled at him.  "As he was being stoned, he could be heard praying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'  He fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'"  (Acts 7:54, 59, 60)

What a way to meet one's Maker. 

I have never had stones thrown at me - not physically, anyway.  But smirks and arguments and snubs for living and speaking the truth of God?  O course.  This has probably happened to all of us.  Even Jesus told us to expect nothing less.  "You will be hated by all on account of Me."  (Matthew 10:22)

When I feel the sting of tiny "she's a religious fanatic" pebbles... from neighbors or relatives or associates of any kind... I hope to remember Stephen.  I ask this great saint to pray for us.

I feel that in St. Stephen, we have another cloistered heart patron.  May he help each of us find the view through the grille. 

Painting:  St. Stephen the Martyr, Vincenzo Foppa, 1500s


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This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Monthly Roundup 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Those Other Days

We have hopefully been able to spend at least some part of our day with God.  Perhaps we've been fortunate enough to receive Him in the Eucharist.  We go forward, strengthened by His presence, inspired with His guidance, encouraged in His love.  On the best of these days, we feel that nothing could pull down our spirits.  Often, nothing can.

And then, there are those other days. 

The weather may not be so good.  There might be a traffic jam in the city as we make our way to work.  We're late getting children to school.   We have errands to run and a grocery stop to make and we realize money is really tight this weekThere's dissension among our co-workers.  The world we face is busy, rushing, bustling, loud, demanding, chaotic, crass, irreverent, and anything... absolutely ANYTHING... but Godly.

This is when we truly reap the benefits of time we've spent in prayer, ideally with Scripture.  This is when a phrase that stood out in prayer might just pop back into our minds, inspiring and strengthening us for the very situation we find ourselves in right now.  

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

"Do not... speak ill of one another."  (James 4:11)

“As for lewd conduct or promiscuousness or lust of any sort, let them not even be mentioned among you…. nor should there be any obscene, silly, or suggestive talk…” (Ephesians 5:3-4)

"I will instruct you and show you the way you should walk; I will counsel you, keeping My eye on you."  (Psalm 32:8)

"Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."  (Philippians 4:8)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Godly Sense

Recently I've been practicing lectio at Mass, praying with the readings before Mass begins.  If possible, I spend some time with these before leaving my house, and again when I get to Church. 

And then, I have the most amazing opportunity.  I shudder to think of the times I've taken it for granted.  I can actually be in the physical presence of Christ Himself, and more than that:  I can receive Him.  I think I would faint were I to really grasp the fullness of this Truth.  I believe it is by the grace of God that He has gently veiled this unutterable Reality.  

Once in awhile, however, Our Lord gives us a glimmer of what's actually happening.  "Mass gave me such a joyful feeling," one of you wrote recently.  "I have not had that feeling at Mass in a very long time.  I felt an incredible sense of God's mercy flowing into me.  It made me feel such sorrow for my sins.  It was not a sad sorrow, like 'woe is me, I am so sinful.'  It was more like a sorrow wrapped in the joy of God's mercy.  If that makes sense."

I think what my friend said makes more than sense.  "Sorrow wrapped in the joy of God's mercy" is Godly sense, the kind of sense that He alone provides.   We find this kind of sense flowing throughout the Scriptures.  It is a knowledge of truth, I think, that reaches well beyond our mere five senses.  We can't come up with this on our own; it is part of our gift of faith.

In the world, we are constantly bombarded with nonsense and partial truths and horrid, unspeakable distortionsIn order to keep perspective in this upside down environment, we need the truth of God always before our eyes.  This, as we well know, takes effort.  It takes tremendous effort.  When so many around us are telling us that dark is in fact light, we can be tempted to question our own perceptions.  That is why I'm thankful for the Body and Blood of Christ that feeds us.  And I am thankful for scripture, nuggets of truth that we can carry in our hearts throughout the day, seeing the world through this, our "grillwork."  

Only God's sense is the sense that makes sense.  I strive to keep it before me.  It is the sensible thing to do.    

"The natural man does not accept what is taught by the Spirit of God.  For him, that is absurdity.  He cannot come to know such teaching because it must be appraised in a spiritual way." (1 Corinthians 2:14) 

"The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as it venerates the Body of the Lord, since from the table both of the Word of God and of the Body of Christ it unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the Bread of Life."  (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Act of God

As I've been praying, and writing about, and trying to live lectio divina over these last weeks, there is one part I'd almost forgotten.

Lectio is not a one sided activity.  I read, I talk to God, I commit to Him.  And then....

Something happens.

This is not always a "felt" something.  It may not be perceived by me at all.  But when I am speaking with Jesus and reading His Word and committing myself to live for Him, an amazing thing is going on.  Jesus is actually here.  Not just in my imagination, not by an act of wishful thinking, but He is genuinely here.

I can forget this breathtaking reality when my prayer has been dry or weighed down with distractions.  But Jesus is actually here, regardless of how I feel.  AND...

He is doing something.  Sometimes He brushes my spirit with His presence, sometimes He breathes a word of Scripture into my life, sometimes He lets me see a path I might be called to take.  But always He is here, and always He is acting.

In my lectio yesterday, I thought about doorways.  When I pray with Scripture, I must make a first step, pick up my Bible, and thus open the "door." As I read and pray, I open my heart to Christ more widely.  But it can be hard to keep a door open, especially if it's only slightly ajar.  Its natural tendency may be to swing closed.  I must make an effort to hold it open.  I compare this to the way my mind drifts as I try to hold it open to Christ in prayer.  Sometimes I have to find "props" to help me refocus and keep the door from slamming shut.

But there's one thing I've noticed about doors.  When they are partially open, they often close under their own weight.  Yet when they are opened beyond a certain point, most of them stay open on their own. 

Yesterday I began to feel God's help in keeping the "door" open.  It's almost as if I'd been holding it until my arm had grown tired, and then, quite unexpectedly, Someone took the weight of it from me.

Then, it's as if He walked in.  Somehow, it was as if He stepped more deeply into my life, into my awareness, into my prayer, and quietly led more of the "conversation."  And as impossible as this is to describe, I know I should not use the phrase "as if."  There's no "as if" about it.  Our Lord let me know, in some mysterious way, what I had believed by faith all along..... 

that He is here.  

"Experiences of God are far, far more than anything we can fabricate for ourselves.... when God gives someone the unspeakable experience of Himself in contemplative immersion, He leaves no stone unturned."  (Father Thomas Dubay SM, Fire Within, Ignatius, 1989,  p. 47)

Monday, November 5, 2012

O, Tiny One

As my lectio drew to a close this morning, something happened.

I felt a desire to hold a tiny, tiny newborn.  Being well beyond the age of giving birth myself, I attributed this longing to the fact that my youngest grandchild is now two.  And yes, I think that's part of it.

But it hit me:  this "call to hold" may well be a nudge from God.  I think it is a spiritual call, not a physical one.. and certainly it's in line with the call each of us has (to some degree or other) to pray for and help those in need.

So today I am saying yes, as an act of faith, and I'm "spiritually adopting."  There are so many little ones in imminent danger, ones so tiny that some dismiss them as not human.  There are tiny infants whose parents have been told "there might be something wrong with the fetus.  Our advice is to abort."  There are newborns lying on cold metal tables, their skin burned with saline, ignored because their mothers, after all, did not want to carry them to term.  Leave it alone, a nurse is told, forget it.  It's not a baby.

Not-A-Baby utters a pitiful cry, flails its little arms, reaches out with tiny fingers to grasp its gift of life.  It IS a baby - a tiny, helpless, wounded baby who needs someone to care, to love, to hold. 

Perhaps I am adopting all of them, perhaps there is someone(s) specific, but today I hold out my "arms." I pray for mothers, fathers, grandparents, doctors, government leaders, voters, nurses, abortionists.  I pray for the parents who have just been told their unborn child has an abnormality (see footnote below).  I pray for the unmarried teenager, and her boyfriend, and her frantic parents.  I pray for a change in laws, I pray for a change in hearts.

I swaddle in prayer.  I cuddle with intercession.  I hold a tiny one in my heart, and I say yes.  I will work for you, O tiny one, I'll be your advocate however I can.  And when they come for you to take your life, I will be at your side in prayer...

"The mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo."  Pope John Paul II (Evangelium Vitae)

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Monthly Round Up

Footnote:  " it is no secret that there is a bias among medical professionals to recommend abortion when test results even hint (often mistakenly) of Down Syndrome" (Father Frank Pavone, emphasis mine)  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

To Sing This Day For God

Having begun my day in conversation with God, I remain in communion with Him wherever I go.  I can be a "portable monastery" - for what IS a monastery, after all, if not a place where God is loved and served and praised?

And so I go forward, into the swirl of life around me.  I go in gratitude, singing silent songs wherever the day may take me.  I carry along the fruits of lectio.

Within my heart, the hymn of praise goes on and on and on.

I am a walking monastery.  A dancing monastery.  A refuge of love for my Lord.

"David, girt with a linen apron, came dancing before the Lord with abandon, as he and all the Israelites were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the sound of the horn." (2 Samuel 6:14-15)


Friday, November 2, 2012

To Live this Day for God

"To You I pray, O Lord; at dawn You hear my voice.."  (Psalm 5:3)

I know how to do this.  I have learned the basic steps of lectio, of back and forth conversation with God.

And so, if I haven't already:  today I begin.  I may feel dry as dust as I do so, but I make a start.  I take up a bit of scripture, and I read.  I ask God to help me hear what He's saying to my soul.  I read until something strikes me, then I let it sink in.  I realize that God Himself is with me, is really and truly with me.  This is not a game I'm playing, it isn't an empty exercise, it's not a task to be gotten out of the way.  I am in conversation with Almighty God.

I let the words touch me.  I let the Word Himself (John 1:1) speak to my heart.  I talk with Him about whatever I wish.  If I should feel a gentle "touch" from Him (a feeling of being loved, perhaps), I savor it.  I thank Him for it.  If I don't, I thank Him anyway.  I ask Him to help me become more pleasing to Him this day.  I ask to be directed in His paths. 

I shall now go forward, to live this day for God.    

"My soul waits for the Lord, more than sentinels wait for the dawn."  (Psalm 130:6) 



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Until the Day Dawns

"Learn to fix the eye of faith on the divine word of the Holy Scriptures as on 'a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the day-star arises in our hearts' " (St. Augustine)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Way into His Harbor

"Just as at sea, those who are carried away from the direction of the harbor bring themselves back on course by a clear sign; so Scripture guides those adrift on the sea of life back into the harbor of the divine will."  (St. Gregory of Nyssa)

We now know, hopefully, what Lectio Divina is, "how to do it," and what it can mean in our everyday lives.

Now I propose the idea of going through every one of our days, here in the real world where we live, with scripture applied to everything we do.  Servings of scripture for breakfast, dinner, and supper!   Scripture weaving through our work and influencing our recreation!  Scripture comforting our fears and influencing our decisions and lulling us to sleep.....

Such a day would surely be one lived "through the grille."

I, for one, would love to learn to live my days in just this way.  Conversing with God in the silence of my heart, as He brings specific words and verses to my mind.  "In the sacred books," wrote Pope Leo XIII, "the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet His children and talks with them."

"I find myself now practicing Lectio with every Word of Scripture that I read," said our friend Anita recently. "When I prayed 'morning prayer' this morning, I read it so differently than usual - hanging on every word, every image that the divine writer conveyed - I realized I was 'squeezing out the juice.'  Oh my goodness! ...this is GRACE.  I find myself now longing to read scripture, waiting to 'Hear' what He wants me to know...."

I pray that we will each have the gift of longing to read scripture, leaning in close to hear what He wants us to know....