Tuesday, January 31, 2012

the grille-gaze

Another e-mail from my friend Joy brings me right back to the “grille.”  

“I strive to not let myself get caught up in all of the negativity of the world - the hopelessness - the fear of the future... I think when we focus too much on the circumstances of what is going on around us, we become like Peter when he was called by Jesus to get out of the boat and walk to Him.  As long as he kept his gaze on Jesus he was fine, but when he glanced away at the sea and the storm and the salty waves all around, he started to sink with fear and despair.  I must remind myself constantly to keep my eyes locked onto Jesus, knowing that He is in control, and not get flustered with the circumstances that I am living in and walking through.  I have not quite mastered this and it is easier said than done, but it is my hope and prayer…” - Joy

“Lord, help me to direct myself to everything in an ordered love, diverting my gaze from the world, and turning it toward heaven….” (St. Bernard)

“Lord God, may Your will be my grillwork, Your gospels the bars in which I am enclosed and through which I will view each circumstance of this day.”(from The Cloistered Heart book)

Monday, January 30, 2012

curling up in a book

I know what it’s like to curl up with a good book.  I also know the joy of curling up WITHIN one, nestling into a volume and living inside its pages, carrying its atmosphere with me for days and months thereafter. 

Which is why I choose my books very, very carefully. 

As a cloistered heart, desiring to view all things through the "grillwork of the will of God," I don't want just anything to form my outlook. Like a child imitating the grownups around her, I want to model my attitudes and actions on the genuinely holy "grownups in the Faith" who have left a legacy of words. I pray to see as they have seen, to grow as they have grown…

"In the midst of these natural fears, a strong thought took possession of my heart: ‘Ah, how good it would be to be able to imitate St. Paul and to see myself in fetters for the love of Jesus, who was bound for me...’  This sweet thought prevailed so strongly in my soul that I desired those chains more than I feared captivity….we never find crosses, nails, or thorns in the midst of which, if we look closely, we do not find Jesus Christ… When I saw myself surrounded by murderous waves, by infinite forests, and by a thousand dangers, there came to my mind that precious saying of St. Ignatius the Martyr: ‘today I begin to be the disciple of Christ.’  For what do so many exercises, so many fervent meditations, so many eager desires avail?  All these are nothing but wind if we do not put them into practice.’"  (Paul Le Jeune, quoted in Jesuit Missionaries to North America by Francois Roustang SJ, Ignatius Press, 2006, pp. 100-101)

"I keep going forward bravely - though my feet become wounded - to my homeland and, on the way, I nourish myself on the will of God.  It is my food.  Help me, happy inhabitants of the heavenly homeland, so that your sister may not falter on the way." (St. Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy in My Soul (Diary), Marians of the Immaculate Conception, 1996, p. 347)

"If I can’t breathe, God will give me the strength to bear it.  I love Him!  He’ll never abandon me."  (St. Therese of Lisieux, Her Last Conversations, ICS Publications, p. 115)

"The contemplative has a special way of reading books…. he uses them as intermediaries to arrive at … that experimental knowledge of God which tastes the sweetness of His infinite goodness." (Monks of the Strict Observance, Cistercian Contemplatives, 1947, p. 54)

Friday, January 27, 2012

back in the library

Since our earlier visit to the monastery library, I’ve been thinking about how “bits of books” have stuck to me through my lifetime.  Not just quotes and ideas:  but also emotions, atmospheres, examples in the face of trials.  I learned the joy of “merging into a book” in childhood. I read about caves and wanted to explore one, read of a dog and wanted to have one. And surely I was not the only girl to see an abandoned house and picture myself as a fearless Nancy Drew venturing inside it, oblivious to cobwebs and pitfalls and bats. 

There is something besides mere enjoyment at work, however, when we read God-inspired books about God-centered lives.  The Holy Spirit (particularly when we ask Him to do so) can use what we read to call us, personally, to give our hearts more totally to Christ.  

Have you ever read a book by a saint, and yearned to love God with that person’s total abandonment?  Have you ever finished a powerful testimony only to find that the zeal and power you’ve read about has not yet finished with you?

Monastery libraries do not contain “just any books.”  They hold volumes whose contents will leave desires for virtue and charity and courage sticking to their readers.  As a cloistered heart, I want to choose carefully what bits of books are sticking to me.  What follows is the tiniest sampling of thoughts that have stuck to my spiritual bones over the years.  These help arm me with zeal and courage.  They have been used by God to make me a bit more fearless.  They help me find strength to move forward, even in the face of life’s “cobwebs and pitfalls and bats”…..

“Holiness is produced in us by the will of God and our acceptance of it.  It is not produced by intellectual speculation about it.  If we are thirsty we must have a drink and not worry about books which explain what thirst is.” (Jean Pierre de Caussade)

“If you don't try to become saints, you must be crazy.” (St. Vincent Pallotti)

“Soon we shall be in eternity and then we shall see how insignificant our worldly preoccupations were and how little it mattered whether some things got done or not; however, right now we rush about as if they were all-important.  When we were little children how eagerly we used to gather pieces of broken tiles, little sticks, and mud with which to build houses and other tiny buildings, and if someone knocked them over, how heartbroken we were and how we cried! But now we understand that these things really didn't amount to much.  One day it will be like this for us in heaven when we shall see that some of the things we clung to on earth were only childish attachments.”  (St. Francis de Sales)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

in the library

While reflecting on the "library" of a cloistered heart, I came across something from an unexpected source.  I normally quote saints as we explore the inner cloister, but the following words from Anne Morrow Lindbergh are so perfect that I cannot pass them up.  When speaking of an absorbing book, Mrs. Lindbergh wrote: "You merged into it, so that when you walk out of it you still have bits of it sticking to you. You live through a thin veil of it for awhile - the way, sometimes, you live half a morning through the veil of last night's dream."  (from Bring Me a Unicorn, 1972, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, NY, p. 225)

I find these words poignant and descriptive.  And I wonder:  what books would I like to merge into?  What writings and teachings do I want to carry with me, allowing bits of them to stick to me as I go through my day?  What examples and thoughts and ideas would I choose to "live through"... wearing them like a veil through which I meet with life?

As a cloistered heart, I desire to see and respond to every circumstance through Scripture and Church teaching.  Thankfully, there are books for this.  I have the Holy Bible to "merge into," and I do not have to do this merging on my own.  It is the Holy Spirit Who helps Scripture take root in my heart.  

I also appreciate (need! crave!) examples.  Stories in which I become absorbed.  Lives of people whose heroism, courage, and virtue slide over me like a veil.  In the next few days, I hope to visit some of these volumes, sharing ways in which they've left bits of zeal stuck to my will.  

I know each of us has stories we treasure, saints who have inspired us, people who have lit fires in our hearts.  As I share just a bit of my library with you over the next little span of time, I trust you will be thinking about what examples (not limited to books) have left bits of ______, _____ and ____  stuck to your life....

Text not in quotes

Monday, January 23, 2012

a cloister patron

It is almost the feast of St. Francis de Sales (24 January), a day I joyfully  celebrate.  Although he lived in the 1600s, St. Francis continues to teach me much about the “cloister” in which I'm privileged to find myself.  Francis lived and wrote in an age when intense devotion to Christ was considered appropriate for those in cloisters, but not so much for persons in the world.  Francis de Sales challenged this way of thinking.  He has left a rich legacy for those of us who want to live totally for God, whatever our state in life. 

St. Francis was a bishop, founder of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, and he's a saint and Doctor of the Church.  He is patron of the deaf and of Catholic writers, and his own books remain (for the most part) readily available today.  Letters he wrote to his friends and spiritual directees help direct my own life 400 years later.  St. Francis de Sales is one of my most beloved patrons as I strive to cloister my heart for God.  

"Almost all those who have hitherto written about devotion have been concerned with instructing persons wholly withdrawn from the world…. My purpose is to instruct those who live in town, within families, or at court, and by their state of life are obliged to live an ordinary life as to outward appearances.”  (St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life).  

“A strong, resolute soul can live in the world without being infected by any of its moods, find sweet springs of piety amid its salty waves, and fly through the flames of earthly lusts without burning the wings of its holy desires for a devout life.  True, this is a difficult task, and therefore I wish that many souls would strive to accomplish it with greater ardor than has hitherto been shown.”  (Introduction to the Devout Life). 

"It is an error, or rather a heresy, to wish to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the mechanic’s shop, the court of princes, or the home of married people.” (Introduction to the Devout Life).  

“Always remember… to retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others.  This mental solitude cannot be violated by the many people who surround you since they are not standing around your heart but only around your body.  Your heart remains alone in the presence of God.” (Introduction to the Devout Life).        

Saturday, January 21, 2012

the inner secret

I recently received an e-mail from "Joy," who wrote:  
"Who doesn't need a peaceful and holy place to go in the madness of the world today?  And there it is right within us - it could not be closer.  We just have to be made aware of it…" 

With this in mind, I was touched to come across the following quote:  "Christ is held by the mind knowing Him and the heart loving Him...  what is this room except the inner secret of your own person?  Keep this inner room clean, so that when it is pure, unstained by sin, your spiritual home may stand as a priestly temple with the Holy Spirit dwelling in it.  One who seeks and entreats Christ is never abandoned, but visited by Him frequently, for He stays always with us."  (St. Ambrose)

(photo taken at Mobile Visitation by Stephanie L.)

the Reason

For a few months now, we have explored the “inner monastery.”  We’ve stepped over the threshold, visited the chapel, prayed in a choir stall, looked at life through the grille.  And we’ve really just begun!  There is still an attic to rummage around in, there are treasures in the library… and how might lessons from “the refectory” be applied to our everyday lives...?

I, for one, am anxious to go forward with increased vigor.  But before we continue, I’d like to spend just a minute remembering our Reason.  After all, our analogies would be nothing more than “nice thoughts” (perhaps even illogical ones) if we did not keep sight of the Reason for them all.

How can a man or woman leave home, possessions, career, entertainment - and so many things the world considers important - in order to take up residence behind enclosure walls?   

The Reason is a Person.  Without this Person, cloistered life (whether physical or spiritual) would be pointless and empty and fruitless and vague.  If we know and remember nothing else about monasteries or aspects of consecrated life, we must remember this:     

Jesus is the Reason for it all.  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

those greater splendors

"Heaven is at present 
out of sight, 
but in due time, 
as snow melts 
and discovers 
what it lay upon, 
so will this visible 
creation fade away 
those greater splendors 
which are behind it." 
(John Henry Cardinal Newman)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

in the cell

"Whenever you pray, go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private…” (Matthew 6:6)

St. Catherine of Siena, who did not live in a monastery, “formed a cell in her own heart and there she remained continually united with God even when busiest, contemplating Him and speaking familiarly with Him.  Thus she attained to a stable, uninterrupted union with her Lord.” (Spiritual Diary, Daughters of St. Paul, 1990).    

"The metaphor of the cell brings to mind the idea of a retreat in which the soul can renew its strength after the fatigue of the active life, where it can leave aside visible things to think about those that are invisible, and where it finally finds peace, far from external distractions…” (J.M. Perrin OP., Catherine of Siena, Newman Press, 1965). 

“Brother Body is our cell, and our soul is the hermit living indoors in the cell, in order to pray to God and meditate on him.” (St. Francis of Assisi) 

“I offer You the cell of my heart; may it be Your little Bethany.  Come rest there…”  (Elizabeth of the Trinity)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

to be a cloistered heart...

Yesterday we learned a little about "Rose's" experience of living as a cloistered heart.  Today I am privileged to share more from her perspective.  Rose wrote the following in 2000:

    "Some people might think it contradictory to speak of 'contemplative' in the same sentence as 'mother of a large family.' But it is the contemplative spirit that has helped me survive the chaos that is natural when raising a number of children.
    Just as a monastery cloister has enclosure and a grille to separate it from the world, so my heart has an enclosure.  My enclosure is God's will.  I strive to keep my heart enclosed in the Will of God.  My grille is formed by Scripture, and the teachings and traditions of the Church...
    The cloister in my heart is a place of refuge.  It is a place where I can retreat from the world no matter where I am; in the middle of a crowded mall, or in a busy grocery store, or in my own kitchen.  My cloistered heart allows me to sneak away from my 'Martha' busyness to be a 'Mary' kneeling at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38-42).
    My cloistered heart is a refuge in the midst of the world.  It is a place to which I can escape to think, to pray, to meditate.  I also hope that the cloister in my heart provides a refuge for Jesus, a place where He can find peace and love and refreshment...
    To be a cloistered heart, to live a cloistered heart life, is to aspire to be contemplative in the midst of the world and in the midst of my family.  It is what makes me search out the quiet.  It is what encourages me to walk the back roads and to take the less traveled paths.  It is what turns off the TV and the radio.  It is what makes me appreciate silence....."  Rose 

Text not in quotes

(special thanks to Stephanie L. for her photo taken at Mobile Visitation Monastery)

Friday, January 13, 2012

a crack in the wall

The following is from a woman who discerned, after several years in the postulancy and novitiate of a Community, that the religious vocation was not her call from God.  "Rose" brings a perspective I have never had, so I share this with her permission:

"When I left the convent I thought I had to leave prayer and the spiritual life behind.  I tried to leave it behind, but God had other ideas.  He constantly tugged at my heart and I was always longing for more spirituality in my life.  I had this idea that prayer, holiness, and the spiritual life were for the religious vocation and hidden behind high, thick brick walls.  I longed to find a crack in that wall so I could have just a tiny taste of the spiritual life I once knew. 

"Then the Holy Spirit brought the Cloistered Heart to me.  The Cloistered Heart allowed me to squeeze through a tiny crack in that big brick wall.  My spiritual life began to blossom.  I found renewed joy in prayer, the Mass, and the sacraments...

"I long for the fullness of all of God's promises for those who love Him to the heights.  And if that sounds presumptive, then so be it, because I know that it is meant for us all.  Not just the Religious or the saints, but for all......"  (Rose)


Thursday, January 12, 2012

five smooth stones

Armed with only his little bag of five smooth stones, young David went into battle against the powerful warrior Goliath.  David took one of his stones, hurled it with a sling, and struck Goliath.  The stone hit the giant and Goliath fell on the ground.  Thus was seen the truth of David's words declaring that "it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves.  For the battle is the Lord's..."

We may feel spiritually "young," we may feel powerless, we may feel anything but able to combat forces coming against ourselves, the world, and those we love.  The truth, however, is that we have been given the weapon - the "stone" - of prayer.  Even a simple aspiration, prayed from the heart and in effect hurled against the giants, has much more power than we can imagine.

We each have our little pouch of stones.  Simple aspirations, the Mass, prayer with Scripture, the Liturgy of the Hours, songs of praise, the rosary, adoration, chaplets, fasting and sacrifice; yes, each of us has our own little bag of stones...

I pray that God will gather together our prayers, blending their fragrance as incense before Him.  There are so many stones in our pouches, possibly more than we realize.  I will be praying for each one of us, that we uncover and practice using our "stones..."


Sunday, January 8, 2012

a morning offering

"Eternal God, behold me prostrate before Your immense majesty, humbly adoring You.  I offer You all my thoughts, words and actions of this day.  

"I offer them all to be thought, spoken, and done entirely for love of You, for Your glory, to fulfill Your divine will, to serve You, to praise You and bless You..." 

                                                   (St. John Leonardi)

                                                                                                                                                      (photo 2010 NS)

Friday, January 6, 2012

preparing today

St. Francis de Sales, in his "Spiritual Directory," proposes a practical morning exercise.  He counsels us to keep this prayer "brief and fervent..."

A.  Think.  Thank God and adore Him...

B.  Consider:  The gift of the present day is a preparation for eternity.  Make a firm resolution to use the day well for this intention.

C.  Look Ahead:  Foresee opportunities in which to serve God.  Anticipate whatever temptations might occur.  Prepare yourself by a good resolution to avoid carefully whatever might be against God's glory and your salvation.  Then consider how you plan to carry out this resolution. 

D.  Humble Yourself:  Acknowledge your dependence upon God.  Hold your heart in your hands and offer it to His love, together with your good intentions.  Ask His protection, His strength, that you be successful in His service.  (from In the Midst of the World by Sister Joanna Marie Wenzel VHM, Visitation Sisters)

Monday, January 2, 2012

O Lord, open my lips...

"Intentions are wispy things," I wrote a month ago.  They drift by and are soon forgotten, being nothing more than daydreams until they're turned into actions.  Forgive me for repeating what I said then, but I want to remind myself that yes, I had intentions.  I would do well now to look back at them.  After all, it's the time of year when people embark on new beginnings.  So .. have my intentions to "spend more time in the choir (prayer) stall" begun to turn into actions?

Some, yes.  I have found it easier to remember to pray as SOON AS I awaken, before I get out of bed.  I've been doing this by reciting one key line:  "Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim Your praise..."  I have found these words  to be the perfect ones to propel me into a prayerful day.  I don't stop with that sentence, generally.... I take it forward into a line or two of verbal praise of God, perhaps some general "conversation," maybe a bit of intercession as I feel inspired to do so.  I then find it easier and more natural to keep spontaneous prayer going as the day moves along.

I am reminded, in this, of having an i.v. put into my hand during one of the times I was giving birth.  I was not too keen on the idea.  However, I was told that I'd be given only saline unless I needed medication at some time.  The point was to have an open vein, ready and waiting, because that would make it easier to administer medicine should this suddenly be necessary.

I've thought of that often in the years since; I think of it in connection with prayer.  If I open my heart to conversation with God when the day begins, I find it much easier to stay connected as the moments move along.  It's more natural to ask for "on the spot" help. It's easier to be thankful.  I tend to be aware of God's presence throughout the day.

My new year's prayer for all of us is that the Lord will open our lips.  May our hearts embrace Him lovingly.  May our mouths proclaim His praise........