Saturday, March 31, 2012

For Love of the Sheep

picture attribution
"My solemn word is this:  I am the sheepgate.  All who came before Me were thieves and marauders whom the sheep did not heed."

"I am the gate.  Whoever enters through Me will be safe.  He will go in and out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy.  I came that they might have life and have it to the full." 

"I am the good shepherd." 

 "The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."

                                                        (John 10:7-11)


Friday, March 30, 2012

And You... Who Do You Say That I Am?

One thing (or I should say, one Person) is central to cloister of the heart.  Without Him, there is really no point to either spiritual or physical monasticism. 

Oh, but there are monastics of other faiths besides Christianity, some might remind me.  True.  But their focus is not upon a Savior, for they have none.  They do not have a Messiah who suffered and died to free them from their sins.  I think Thomas Merton, in the book The Monastic Journey (Sheed, Andrews & McNeel Inc., Kansas City), put it well when he wrote:  “The pagan has no Christ, no Holy Spirit, perhaps even no personal God at all.  He has to struggle upward to union with the ‘Supreme Being’ - ‘The Absolute’ - by sheer force of his own will and by his own fortitude, relying on his own battery of religious practices.  His task is one of almost unbelievable difficulty - and this explains why pagan religions are all shot through with compromise and despair…. Besides, with all the subtlety and heroism of the purest techniques of natural religion - what does man finally encounter?  Not God - only himself.  His purified self, if you like, but still it is only himself.”

I do not want to spend my days in the spiritual cloister with only myself.  What a useless, fruitless, joyless, un-doable stretch of days that would be.  My focus is not on monasticism, but upon the Lord of the Monastery.  And who is that Lord?

In one of His discussions with His disciples, Jesus asked “who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  There were several answers before Jesus turned the question into something more personal.  “And you… who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-15)

Scripture answers this question.  Jesus is the “reflection of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of the Father’s Being.”  (Hebrews 1:3).  Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 14:61-62)… . 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us plainly: “He is the only Son of the Father, He is God himself.”  (#454).  This is Who Jesus is, in His essence. 

What if Jesus were to stand before me, this very day, look intently into my eyes, and ask me personally:  “And YOU.  Who do YOU say that I am?......”  

How would I respond?

For prayer:

“This Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders which has become the cornerstone.  There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved.”  (Acts 4:11-12)

“At Jesus’ name, every knee must bend, in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father; Jesus Christ is LORD!” (Philippians 2:10-11)

“And you…. who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

Text not in quotes

(For a brief message from Pope Benedict XVI about the centrality of Jesus, click here)

(This post is part of Catholic Bloggers' Network monthly Round Up)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Listening for the Bells

Monastery bells ring out at regular times throughout the day, and often in the night.  Each peal is a call signaling that it's time to pray, eat, work, meet....

In my life, too, I have "bells."  I admit that I both love and dread them.  Sometimes I think I'd find them more agreeable if they rang forth with monastic regularity, and I could know I must show up for dinner at noon and prayer at 1:00 and back to my work at 2:00.  But no; the bells calling me are usually unpredictable.  They rrrbrbrring forth from the phone, call with a baby's cry, clang in a doorbell.  

Today, in a moment of hassle (of the sort that can feel overwhelming), I decided to make peace with the bells. I think this decision came with a ring of inspiration.  I was overworked, overtired, with too much to do in too few minutes and no energy left to do it with.  

And it hit me.  With a "DONG," it hit me.  I realized that I was scrubbing and gift-wrapping and preparing and rushing and being interrupted because there are people I love who would prefer a clean house to a dirty one.  And because a little one has a birthday.  And because there are family members and friends visiting, in two different batches, over the next week.  And because I have the incredible gift of a family.  My goodness - how blessed am I!!

Yesterday I wrote about counting my blessings.  Today I counted them clang-by-clang.  I had already been thinking of writing about monastery bells, so today I was aware of every sweet chime.

God asks of me what He asks of those in physical monasteries..... obedience to the "bells."  Loving attention to the responsibilities of my life.  What an opportunity for thanksgiving this could be.   "Thank You, Lord, for Linus's birthday.... thank you that he was born."  And if the phone rings as I'm gift-wrapping?  "Thank You for the friend who's calling."  Oh... the friend has a need?  I can pray for that as I mop the floor...

Again, it may sound "simple."  But I've found that the most "do-able" things to help my life of prayer are often just that.   

For prayer and reflection:

"Each small task of everyday life is part of the total harmony of the universe."  (St. Therese of Lisieux)

"The way we came to understand love was that He laid down His life for us; we too must lay down our lives for our brothers.... little children, let us love in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it."  (1 John 3:16 & 18) 

(public domain photo)

This post was re-posted by THE FEMININE GIFT 


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Considering Lilies

I think we have time for one more stroll around the cloister garden before this day is done.  We can rely on the bells to remind us when to come inside; in the meantime, I'd like to consider the lilies....

"Take the lilies:  they do not spin, they do not weave; but I tell you, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like any one of them.  If God clothes in such splendor the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown on the fire tomorrow, how much more will He provide for you..." (Luke 12:27-28)

If I look around today, can I see ways in which God is providing for me?   A roof over my head, food to eat, water for a shower?  His provision can be seen in ways as broad as sunshine and as specific as a note arriving in the mail when I need a smile.  It may seem the simplest of exercises to "count my blessings," but I've found it an effective aid to help me remember God's personal care for me.  

For prayer and reflection:

"Are not two sparrows sold for next to nothing?  Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's consent; so do not be afraid of anything.  You are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows."  (Matthew 10:29-31)

(public domain photo)

Further into the Garden...

It's hard to stay out of the garden when spring has freshly arrived.  It is a time of new life.  A time of celebration.

We are now moving into the final days of Lent, when we will focus more intently upon the greatest expression of love the world has ever known.  I find my mind going to another garden, one from which Our Lord was taken just before He suffered for you and for me.

I don't know what "areas of the monastery" we'll be visiting in the week and a half just ahead, but I do know this much.  I will be praying - and I invite you to as well - that we will all see more deeply than ever the personal love Our Lord has for each and every one of us.  Love that would suffer to the death.  Love that would rise and bring us eternal life. 

Occasionally we will look into Scriptures we've cited before... this is because Scripture is fresh each time we pray with it.  The more we look, pray, consider, the more we see and experience and hear and realize and know His personal love...

"Arise, My beloved, My beautiful one, and come!  For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone.  The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land.  The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.  Arise, My beloved, My beautiful one, and come!"  (Song of Songs 2:10-13)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Praise from the Cloister Garden

"Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord, Praise and exalt Him above all forever...

Let the earth bless the Lord, Praise and exalt Him above all forever.  Mountains and hills, bless the Lord.  Everything growing from the earth, bless the Lord...

O Israel, bless the Lord, Praise and exalt Him above all forever. Priests of the Lord, bless the Lord.  Spirits and souls of the just, bless the Lord.  Holy men of humble heart, bless the Lord...

Let us bless the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Let us praise and exalt him above all forever.  Blessed are you, Lord, in the firmament of heaven.  Praiseworthy and glorious and exalted above all forever."  (from Daniel 3)

(photo N Shuman March 25, 2012)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Certain Beginning of Glory

O, the joy of coming fresh from the Sacrament of Reconciliation!  Our life washed clean, all scrubbed and shining, our resolution to "go and sin no more" firmly intact!

It is the time of year when we're invited to take a sober look into our ways of living, our motives, our sinful patterns.  We do so not merely for the sake of observation.  We look at our faults in order to bring them to the ONLY One Who can heal them.

As we do so, we're able to come to a deeper appreciation of our Savior.

If we can catch even the merest glimpse of His love for us, I think we might explode with joy.

"Joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian."  (GK Chesterton)

"Grace is nothing else but a certain beginning of glory in us."  (St. Thomas Aquinas)

For prayer and meditation: 

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old order has passed away; now all is new!  All this has been done by God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.  (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)

Jesus "said to the woman, 'your faith has been your salvation.  Now go in peace.'"  (Luke 7:50)

(painting The Laughing Boy by Robert Henri 1910.  In US public domain)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

In the Confessional

One area of the monastery I might prefer to skip over is the Confessional.  This place is part of the physical monastery, certainly - but does it have to be part of the spiritual monastery as well?  I mean, maybe I'd rather think about a nice little “friendship area,” where I imagine myself talking things over with Jesus and I can “hear” Him telling me what a really good job I’m doing out here in the world.  After all, I’m not a big sinner.  I don’t go around robbing stores.  Perhaps I could just do away with the confessional part, replacing it with something less untidy.

The truth is, however, that the confessional IS part of the monastery.   It is part of the physical monastery, and it must be part of the “monastery” of a cloistered heart.   

To tell Our Lord that we are sorry for our sins is, in reality, coming to the Doctor for healing of our wounds. “As a doctor hates sickness and does everything he can to eliminate it and to help the sick person, so do you, my God, work in me with your grace to extinguish sin and free me from it.” (St. Augustine)

Am I aware of “sicknesses” in my soul today?  Am I carrying a burden of sin or failure in need of healing?   If so, I can be assured that Jesus knows.  And in His compassion, He waits.   

With His forgiveness, mercy, and healing held out to me, Jesus waits…..

For reflection:

“Should we fall into sin, let us at once humble ourselves sorrowfully in His presence, and then, with an act of unbounded confidence, let us throw ourselves into the ocean of His goodness, where every failing will be canceled and anxiety will be turned into love.”  (St. Paul of the Cross)
"Let no one doubt concerning the goodness of God; even if a person’s sins were as dark as night, God’s mercy is stronger than our misery.  One thing alone is necessary: that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God’s merciful grace, and then God will do the rest.” (St. Faustina).

“Repentance is the renewal of Baptism and a contract with God for a second life.” (St. John Climacus)

“If my conscience were burdened with all the sins it is possible to commit, I would still go and throw myself into our Lord’s arms, my heart all broken up with contrition.  I know what tenderness He has for any prodigal child of His that comes back to Him.” (St. Therese of Lisieux) 

For prayer: 

“I acknowledged my sin to You, my guilt I covered not.  I said, ‘I confess my faults to the Lord,’ and You took away the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
"I have brushed away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like a mist; return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 44:22)
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.  For he knows how we are formed; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:12-14)

Text not in quotes

(painting: Sankt Janobus del Altere by Rembrandt)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Where His Glance Falls

"God passes through the thicket of the world, and where His glance falls He turns all things to beauty.”  (St. John of the Cross)
God’s glance seems to have fallen on cloister gardens lately.   In my part of the world, gray shades of winter have given way to greens and yellows and pinks.  Spring itself appears to have been bypassed, erased from the calendar, as sudden blossoms race toward July.

It is, I think, a time for relishing.  Whatever the weather outside our own doors, we can take time to notice it.  Perhaps our “exercise” today can be that of noticing.  Maybe we can take a moment during this day or evening to sit down, sit still, sit back, and allow ourselves to find – perhaps in something right before us - the presence of God. 

“Creation is a great book.  Look above you; look below you!  Note it; read it!  God did not write that book with ink.  Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made.  Can you ask for a louder voice than that?  Why, heaven and earth cry out to you:  ‘God made me!’”  (St. Augustine)  

For prayer and meditation: 

“Arise, My beloved, My beautiful one, and come!  For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone.  The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land.  The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.  Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!” (Song of Songs 2:10-13)

(photo © 2010 N Shuman)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

By the Light of Obedience

If our enclosure is within the will of God, obedience is what keeps the paths lit.  After all, without obedience to God there is no such thing as “enclosure in God’s will.”  Enclosure in the will of God without obedience TO the will of God would be impossible; it would be a contradiction. 

Cloistered nuns and monks vow obedience to the will of God as stated in their rules and constitutions, and as discerned by their superiors.  They do not do this blindly, but with their eyes fixed upon Jesus.  It is out of love for Him that they choose to obey. "The novice promises not just to obey orders but to ‘live IN obedience.’  The phrase has a splendid ring to it, as though she were throwing up imposing castle walls around her whole life…” (Mother Mary Francis PCC, A Right to be Merry) 

We who wish to live for God in the midst of the world are called to obedience.  Our Rule is Scripture.  Our “constitutions,” if we are Catholic, are found in the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church.  Our superiors are the Pope and bishops teaching in union with him.  God has given us free will; we can choose to obey or not obey Him.  Out of love for God and by His grace, we are free to make the loving choice:  to obey all that He asks of us.  We can then look upon obedience not as a burden, but as a precious opportunity to express our love for God.

Hesitant and questioning though I may be, I am invited to embark upon the road of obedience, trusting that the ways and the whys will become “illuminated” as I move along. I am invited to watch self-love crumble beneath each obedient footstep. 

This is no small gift, for as the darkness of self-love scatters, I shall have more room in my life for the illuminating love of God.

For prayer and reflection:

"A lamp to my feet is Your word, a light to my path."  (Psalm 119:105)

“The love of God consists in this: that we keep His commandments - and His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)

“God loves your tiniest act of obedience more than all other homages you might think of offering Him.” (St. John of the Cross)

“He who obeys the commandments he has from Me is the man who loves Me; and he who loves me will be loved by My Father.  I too will love him, and reveal Myself to him…. 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 14:21 & 23)

(Georges de la Tour painting public domain) 


Friday, March 16, 2012

The Treasure of Chastity

Contrary to what many believe, chastity is not the “absence” of something. “Chastity, so often considered ‘negative’ or ‘repressive,’ is supremely positive and liberating. It’s the virtue that liberates sexual desire from ‘the utilitarian attitude,’ from the tendency to use others for our own gratification.” (TOB)

Chastity provides for us an undistorted lens through which we can see God’s gift of sexuality as it is really meant to be:  an opportunity for holiness, and a treasure so precious that God uses it to seal our marriage covenants and bring forth new life.   It is precisely because human sexuality is noble and holy that we make a grave mistake when we trivialize it, or when we cooperate with the distortion, commercialization, or profanation of this gift.  

Every one of us - whether we are married, single, or celibate for the kingdom of God - is called to practice the virtue of chastity.  “All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2348, emphasis mine).

The best material on chastity I have personally encountered is Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” and an ideal introduction to this topic is a book entitled Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West.  This little volume has opened my eyes in a deeper way to the richness of God’s plan for humanity, and to the harm we inflict upon ourselves when we allow the devil to rob us of the treasure of chastity. “God created sexual desire ‘in the beginning,’”explains West (citing the Holy Father) “to be the very power to love as he loves - in a free, sincere, and total gift of self.” “If we want to know what’s most sacred in this world, all we need to do is look for what is most violently profaned.”  (TOB) 

"Brace yourself! If we take in what the Holy Father is saying in his Theology of the Body, we will never view ourselves, view others, view the Church, the Sacraments, grace, God, heaven, marriage, the celibate vocation...we will never view the world the same way again."  (Christopher West, emphasis mine, because I have personally never viewed the world the same after encountering this eye-opening, beautiful, inspired point of view.  To find excellent articles on the Theology of the Body, click on this line) (I particularly like the article you can get to by clicking here).  

For prayer and reflection:  

“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)

"Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.  The alternative is clear:  either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2339)

“Be exceedingly quick to turn yourself from every form of lewdness and its allurements.  This evil works insensibly and from small beginnings it advances to great troubles.  These are always more easy to avoid than to cure.”  (St. Francis de Sales) 

“How many … think that because certain forms of behavior are socially accepted they are therefore morally right?”  (Pope John Paul II, 1995)

Married, single and celibate forms of chastity are very clearly defined for us in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2331-2400.  Pertinent Scriptures (in addition to those quoted above) can be found in  Ephesians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 6:15-20; and Matthew 5:27-28.   

If I compare Christ’s teachings with the “everybody’s doing it, everybody’s watching or reading or listening to it” view of sexuality, I just might find myself at a crossroads…. 

Which view will I follow?  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Poverty of Spirit

"How blest are the poor in spirit; the reign of God is theirs."  (Matthew 5:3)

The word “poverty” can really unnerve me.  I like having food in the cupboard and a stack of books by my side and a computer on which to blog.  As a resident of this world, I need to be equipped to live within it, as well as to serve others.  

The good news is:  if I embrace the spirit of poverty, I can still continue to have what I need to live a “normal” life.

The better news is that my ultimate security is not centered in what I own or where I live.   

My security is in God alone.  He will provide for me.  I can trust Him.

If I have given myself over to God, I do not even own “me.”  The poverty of a cloistered heart is that of a person holding no ownership of self.  My goal is to give myself totally and freely to God by a deliberate act of my will, and to thereafter trust that He is making use of my life as HE desires, for His glory and for the outworking of His plan. 

I look to God to lead me out of attachment to my own self will.  My prayer (and it's a scary one, I admit it) is to grow into real poverty of spirit. 

Which will mean I am no longer my own. 

For reflection and prayer: 

“Do not lay up for yourselves an earthly treasure.  Moths and rust corrode; thieves break in and steal. Make it your practice instead to store up heavenly treasure, which neither moths nor rust corrode nor thieves break in and steal.  Remember, wherever your treasure is, there your heart is also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) 

Text not in quotes

(Painting:  Girl with Hay Rake by Winslow Homer 1878)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

His Elevator

We cannot venture far down the monastic path without encountering the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.  These are cornerstones of consecrated life. 

But as a layperson in the midst of the world and a busy family, why should these have anything at all to do with me? 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives the answer. “Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple…”  (Catechism # 915, emphasis mine).

God’s intention for those embracing spiritual poverty is not that all property be dispensed with and renounced.  His will for the married is not the practice of celibacy.  But to each of us He offers the spirit of the counsels in ways appropriate to our individual lives and calls.   If we wish to embrace the essence of monasticism while living in the midst of the world, we can (and must!) embrace the essence of the evangelical counsels as well. 

“Monastic vows are meant to lift a person out of the struggle for money, position, and power,” writes Daniel Rees, “…into a freedom for the Kingdom of God.” (from A THEOLOGY OF MONASTIC LIFE TODAY, Cistercian Publications, 1980, p. 176).

I read the above words and think of St. Therese of Lisieux praying for God to give her a “lift” - an elevator - to boost her into holiness. If the spirit of the evangelical counsels can lift us out of bondage to our clamorings for money, position, and power - then oh, what a grace! 

Over the next few days, we'll take a look at a few of the blessings available to us through the evangelical counsels.  It is my prayer that we can look at these as aides (perhaps "cables"?) to lift us toward closer union with God.

For prayer and meditation:

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

(public domain photo)

Text not in quotes


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Listening for Lectio

I recently received the following in a note from our friend Rose:  "I decided to use Lectio at adoration this morning.  I took the responsorial verse from today's Mass.  'Remember the marvels the Lord has done.'  Oh my goodness.  It was awesome.  I felt like I had only been in prayer a few minutes but when I looked at my watch, I had gone a half hour over my time." 

This experience illustrates, for me, the dazzling simplicity of Lectio.  It does not have to be complicated.  It is God meeting man, God speaking to man. It is the written word of God becoming a fresh, vital, personal, breathed-forth-for-me-at-this-moment word of God.  It is loving, intimate, real.  It is when inspired words of God ring from the page or out of the mouth of a reader and are spoken to ME, here and now. It is my response to the Voice of God as I thank, talk with, love, adore.

Where do I find Lectio in my daily life?  Do I open a Bible or a breviary, perhaps a devotional?

Today I am not suggesting a particular scripture.  Instead, I encourage anyone reading this to open a Bible, or to meditate with the Mass readings of the day... and if we're blessed to be at Mass, to listen extra closely.  

God is waiting to reach out and touch my heart this very day.
How will He do so?
How will I respond?

Text not in quotes

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tower of Strength

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

There is change in the air as a storm approaches.  The wind picks up, clouds gather, there may be a distant clap of thunder.  As lightning flashes around us, we race for shelter. 

Monastery grounds and walls are as subject to storms as those of any other building.  They get slapped with rain, pelted with sleet, covered in snow.  Inhabitants of the cloister might find themselves standing at a window looking out, maybe with a touch of concern.  What are those chunks of hail doing to the roof?  Are the windows secure against the wind?     

The monastery of my life is vulnerable, too.  I face storms, at times, of great magnitude.  Sickness, sudden disaster, an unnerving news report.  It helps me then to remember that I’m in the strongest cloister possible – the cloister of God’s loving embrace.  Everything that touches me must first come through His hands, through His “permissive will.”  I can do as St. Francis de Sales advised, and say amid my contradictions: “this is the very road to heaven.  I see the door, and I am certain the storms cannot prevent us from getting there.”

“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”)

“Happy is the soul established in God and in holy humility.  The winds of the storm are powerless to shake her.” (St. Jane de Chantal)

For prayer and meditation:

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

“Dismiss all anxiety from your minds.  Present your needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude.  Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6-7)

(public domain photo, altered)  


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Location, Location, Location

The will of God is prime spiritual real estate.  It is the safest, most secure “place” in which a person can dwell.  In order to live within this place of refuge, however, we must embrace its boundaries.  

The primary perimeters of God's will are not at all hard to find.  They are revealed in Scripture and outlined clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Because God loves us, He has set these boundaries in place for our security, and He has generously revealed them to us. 

"Live in My will,” God tells me.  “Live in My will when you understand it and when you do not.  Trust ME."  In the face of such an invitation, I have a choice to make.  I am issued this invitation not just once, but in circumstance after circumstance, day after day.  

Will I dwell in the security of God’s will? 

Or must I insist on stumbling about in the hazards of my own. 

For prayer and meditation:

“You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, say to the Lord:  ‘my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”  (Psalm 91:1-2)

“You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within - the Spirit you have received from God.  You are not your own.  You have been purchased, and at a price!  So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)  


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

the path back home

Sometimes the enclosure of a monastery is a vast place, encompassing fields and woods as well as gardens.  I was once a retreatant in such a location, and found myself caught in the meadow during a sudden storm.  One minute I was strolling along under partly cloudy skies, and the next I was hearing cracks of thunder.  As I trudged up a long hill on the edge of a patch of woods, flashes of lightning streaked overhead.  

I think of this and wonder.  What if I strayed to the farthest edges of my enclosure?  What if I became so distracted by things outside God's will that I drifted off to its farthest limits?  What if something just beyond looked so enticing that I wandered right outside? 

I would then be stuck outside the cloister.  Maybe in a snowstorm, cold, on a slippery slope, away from the safety of my monastic home.  Oh why did I ever leave it, why did I drift so far?  

Is there a way back in?

The answer, in a word, is YES.  I know this through experience, and I'd bet that everyone reading this has had touches of mercy as well.  It we look around today and find we've strayed outside the enclosure of God's will, Lent is a good time to take a step back in.  

God has not left us "pathless."  "I am the way, and the truth, and the life," says Jesus (John 14:6). 

It is time to come Home.

For reflection:  
"The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God's grace and joining us with Him in an intimate friendship."  (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1468)

For prayer:  
"Though your sins be like scarlet, they will become white as snow."  (Isaiah 1:18)

"If we acknowledge our sins, He who is just can be trusted to forgive our sins, and cleanse us from every wrong."  (1 John 1:9)

"Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me Your paths.  Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior, and for You I wait all the day."  (Psalm 25:4-5)

(snow photo on this post © copyright 2012 E. Shuman.  All rights reserved.)  

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

In the garden

“Arise, north wind!  Come, south wind!  Blow upon my garden, that its perfumes may spread abroad…”  (Song of Songs 4:16)

The cloister garden is a place of refreshment.  Whether the monastery is snuggled amid rolling hills or surrounded by bustling city, its garden is meant to be a peaceful oasis, a place where the inhabitants connect with the Creator of all.  The garden is where we find the first daffodils of spring breaking through frozen ground, the sparkle of raindrops on greenery, the sounds of robins beginning their song.  

If I go into my “inner garden,”what do I find?  We will be looking more at this in weeks ahead, but as I venture forth into the garden today - what do I see?  Fruits of prayer?  The tender buds of increasing virtue?  What has Our Lord been planting in my life… and how am I cooperating? 

For prayer and meditation:

“Mark well, then, the parable of the sower.  The seed along the path is the man who hears the message about God’s reign without understanding it.  The evil one approaches him to steal away what was sown in his mind. The seed that fell on patches of rock is the man who hears the message and at first receives it with joy.  But he has no roots, so he lasts only for a time.  When some setback or persecution involving the message occurs, he soon falters.  What was sown among briers is the man who hears the message, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of money choke it off.  Such a one produces no yield.  But what was sown on good soil is the man who hears the message and takes it in.  He it is who bears a yield of a hundred - or sixty - or thirty-fold.”  (Matthew 13:18-23)

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Thursday, March 1, 2012


My dictionary defines “linger” as “to continue to stay, as though reluctant to leave.”  It is an intriguing definition for one who wishes to be contemplative.  Contemplatives are lingerers, ones who know that the longer we gaze upon something, the more deeply and fully we actually see it.  Contemplatives have learned through experience that the way to know God is to spend time “gazing upon Him” in prayer.

I like to linger beside my favorite window.  I recognize, as I look through the glass, that there are two ways of experiencing a view.  One way is to glance briefly toward it.  Another is to sit down and linger.  After awhile, the lingerer becomes aware of things missed in a once-over viewing.  Sun glancing off a parked car, turning light into sharp darts of color.  The first yellow of a daffodil.  A squirrel running gracefully across the lawn.

I am refreshed when I take time to linger with the beauty of nature.  I’m refreshed and changed when I linger with Jesus.  Having spent time with Him, I find that perhaps I see Him just a bit more clearly.  Whether I am aware of it or not, I’ve gotten to know Him better than I knew Him before the time of lingering.  I may even become aware of gifts - inspirations, insights, comfort, serenity - that I would not have experienced had I not lingered. “I often wait with great graces until towards the end of prayer,” Jesus said to St. Faustina.   Graces wait for those willing to linger….
Today I allowed myself to linger with Psalm 145.  I lingered so long, in fact, that I only got through verse 7 (out of 21 verses).  But that is fine – it’s much more than fine.  The psalm was to be a springboard to prayer, not an “assignment.” 
I began with the words of praise to which the psalm called me.  I pondered the greatness of the Lord.  I noticed the beautiful day outside my window, and thanked Him for the wonders I saw there.  I then was struck by vs. 4:  “Generation after generation praises Your works..”  This led me into prayer for my children, my grandchildren, and all future generations of my family to come, ever.   God sees them, even now.  I prayed that they will praise His works; that they will know, love and serve Him in their time and throughout eternity. 
I could go on and on, but I will spare you.  It is the first of March, and my thoughts are turning toward the cloister garden.  God willing, we’ll meet there next!

Scriptures for prayer:

“I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.  He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; He set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps, and He put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God.” (Psalm 40:2-3)

“Let your belts be fastened around your waists and your lamps be burning ready.  Be like men awaiting their master’s return from a wedding, so that when he arrives and knocks, you will open for him without delay.” (Luke 12:35-36)

And for personal reflection

Am I willing to linger with God for a few extra minutes of prayer today? To talk to Him just a little while longer, praise Him one more time, listen for the gentle inspirations of His Holy Spirit? 

What happens when I do this?

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