Friday, September 28, 2012

One More Thing

Recreation ceases with the ringing of the bell.  I wonder if anyone ever feels she'd like to finish this important conversation, or maybe add just one more teensy thought, before going to her assigned task for the afternoon.

Several days ago, one of our friends referred to a book by Blessed Columba Marmion.  "He mentions the importance of immediately responding to God's will," our friend says "... which will manifest differently for each soul. He talks about the fault of having the attitude of, 'in a minute...I just have to finish this one thing I am doing.'  How often I have said that!!  It really is a mortification to stop something we are engaged in to follow where God is calling us."

It is one of my own primary mortifications.  Or would be, if I graciously accepted it as such.  "I'll be there in a minute," I say (even if not in words) to people and tasks and, yes - all too often to prayer.  "I just need to finish this one more thing."  

I pray to hear and answer (promptly) the legitimate calls of "the bells."  

In the Parlor, we've had a discussion of fasting.  I think it's time for me to start fasting from "one more thing..." 


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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

To Speak, to Serve

Afternoon recreation often finds nuns or monks strolling in their cloister gardens, soaking in the fresh air and sunshine.  They generally engage in conversation as well.

In his book The Holy Rule, Dom Hubert Van Zeller speaks of the importance of community recreation.  "The dispensation from the normal state of silence was originally granted to monks not because silence was found to be a bore but because recreation was found to be a good.  By mixing with one another and enjoying one another's conversation, monks came to have a better understanding of the family life, of the mystical body, of humanity supernaturalized...... The monk who absents himself from occasions of association with his brethren is withdrawing from a primary monastic influence; he is withdrawing from a unity, from the whole.  Given that he is present, moreover, the monk must make it his business to contribute to the purpose of this common recreation.  He is not a passenger, he is not there to be entertained merely.  He must serve - and serve in charity."  (Van Zeller, The Holy Rule, Sheed and Ward, NY, 1958, pp. 239-240)

Thinking of this tonight, I was struck by one significant difference between conversation in the monastery and conversation in the "world."  That is:  people living in a monastery are pursuing the common goal of living totally for God.  They speak with one another with a goal of "serving in charity."  Their talk does not drift toward idle, immoral topics because their minds are not centered on such things.  Their minds are on God.  Their actions are for God.  Every facet of the monastic jewel is cut to reflect the glory of God.

It is different, isn't it, out here in "the world?"  Conversations we encounter might easily drift toward less than Godly territory.  In can be tough not to find ourselves swept along, like a piece of driftwood bobbing in a muddy river.  In our pursuit of life lived for God, we can feel a bit, well....  lonely at times. 

It occurred to me (thinking of this) that we are blessed to know, as we check in here, that others are "here" with us.  Like nuns or monks praying and working and studying alongside one another in a monastery, we know we're not walking this path alone.  We are in various states and countries and continents, and the circumstances of our lives may differ widely... yet we have all chosen the same path.  We want to live for God.  


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Between Dinner Bells

Again the bell rings, reminding the monastic family that it's time to move from one activity to another.  In this case, it is time to eat.

As we mentioned earlier, the midday meal is normally the main one in a monastery.  The nuns or monks file silently into the Refectory and take their places. Again they will hear spiritual reading as they dine, for time is never wasted here. 

Today's refectory reading will be a selection from a book we mentioned in our last post.  Being today's reader, I sit in a chair in front of everyone else (I'll have my food later), announce the reading material, and begin....

Today I'm reading a few scattered excerpts from the introduction to the book Praying Scripture for a Change, an Introduction to Lectio Divina, by Tim Gray.

The book begins with a quote:  "'Well, let's now at any rate come clean.  Prayer is irksome.  An excuse to omit is never unwelcome.  When it is over, this casts a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day.  We are reluctant to begin.  We are delighted to finish.  While we are at prayer, but not while we are reading a novel or solving a crossword puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us.  And we know we are not alone in this....'"  (C.S. Lewis). 

"We are not alone in finding prayer difficult.... The necessity of prayer is seared into the Christian conscience, and yet many of us live our lives short on prayer.... We hear stories of saints who seemed to talk with God as easily as placing a direct call, and we erroneously imagine that prayer was effortless for them, marked always with joy, consolation, voices and visions.  Against this backdrop we grow discouraged.... If you have trouble praying, then welcome to the human race.  The fact is, we don't know HOW to pray.  Everybody, including the saints, begins life not knowing how to pray.... Our first parents enjoyed unbroken communion with God (shown in the book of Genesis by the image of God 'walking in the garden' with Adam and Eve, speaking with them freely and they with Him).  With original sin, however, everything changed.  The imagery of Genesis is vivid and profound.  God doesn't hide from us; in fact, He comes looking for us.  But we hide from God (see Genesis 3:8), our sin and shame opening a gulf between God and man and shattering the communion of 'the beginning....'  Bridging the chasm between Creator and creature is no simple matter.... as we shall see, in the person of Jesus, God not only calls us but brings us into friendship with Him and teaches us how to pray... Indeed, the crucial thing for us to understand is that God is eager to teach us how to pray.  So eager, in fact, that His Spirit is already at work in us creating the 'divine discontent' we so often feel about our prayer lives.  God does not judge our attempts at prayer anymore than a natural father would chide an infant taking his first steps.  Rather, He cheers us on, motivates us to try again.... The reason anyone anywhere at any time has ever been moved to pray is because God, by His Spirit, was drawing them toward Him... God doesn't just teach us how to pray; His Spirit empowers us to pray.... We must always keep in mind that prayer is God's invitation to enter into an intimate relationship of love and life with Him.  If we forget this is what is happening when we pray, we start treating prayer as simply an obligation...  God desires a personal relationship with us through our Lord Jesus, who has paid with His blood to open the door for us to enter into that relationship.... the God who has put into your heart the desire to know Him ultimately will fulfill....." (1)

Suddenly, the bell rings.  
No matter where I am in whatever book has been chosen, I stop reading.  The bell has rung.  No matter how abrupt the change may seem, the time for dinner reading is concluded. 

The voice of God now calls us on.

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(1)  Tim Gray, Praying Scripture for a Change, an Introduction to Lectio Divina, Ascension Press, 2009, pp. 1-9.  See a review of this book by clicking on this line.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Around the Corner: Lectio

I have now realized that the posts of this Next Monastic Day are (so far) being inspired by things said by you who generously share your lives. I find this enlivening and encouraging and... well, quite wonderful!  To me, it is a precious sign of God working among all of us. 

Something beautiful was shared yesterday. Our friend, who tries to pray the Liturgy of the Hours regularly, said this: "If it's 9:00 and I want to pray the mid-morning prayer and as soon as I sit down my daughter needs me for something, then it's God's will that I not pray at that time or stop praying when half finished or whatever. I may want/need that time because I crave the peace and rest or I desire to worship God. However, God may want my obedience to my vocation as a wife and mom right now over my prayer. I figure that if I'm able to pray certain hours of the day, then that's what God wants. If my family needs me for something else at that time, then that's what I'm supposed to be doing. I don't try to make up for it or squeeze it in later. I just move on and try again at the next scheduled prayer time...."

I find our friend's perspective extremely important..... particularly as we prepare to look more toward the practice of Lectio Divina.  We want to embrace aspects of the monastic life:  primarily, the total commitment to God that draws every one of us.  For some of us, regular prayer hours are possible, depending on our circumstances.  For others, life brings so many changes in one morning that we can barely keep up with them.  Our hearts can be totally committed to God, but the external circumstances of our lives are likely to be far different from the life of a cloistered nun.  "No incense-scented hermitage awaits me," I wrote some years ago.  "No hidden chamber but the one within. Acceptance of my enclosure must mean acceptance of the clutter, the noise, the interruptions..."  (from cloistered heart book)

We might also recall something from an earlier post entitled "A Seamless Gift."  In that, our friend Rose (mother of a large family) wrote "I remember reading, I think from St. Teresa of Avila, that obedience to one's superior is more meritorious than all the self-imposed mortifications, fastings and prayers.  Then I realized my superior is really my vocation as a wife and mother.  Therefore, my duties and responsibilities of motherhood must come first.  And, done with the right intentions (as St. Francis de Sales says, 'for the greater glory of God'), all my actions are lifted up in prayer." 

In this part of our "next monastic day," the bell has rung for "prayer time."  But what will that be like for each of us..... individually? 

As we prepare to look more deeply into Lectio Divina, I suspect we will have things to share about this.  In the meantime, I've just ordered a book that I suspect will be of help in future "Lectio discussions." I am greatly looking forward to digging into it and living it.  One of our dear "Parlor friends" has just written a review of it, which can be found by clicking on this line to get to the blog My Desert Heart.  

I pray we will continue to hear and answer God's bells, to the glory of our great God.

Click here to continue this Next Monastic Day


Friday, September 21, 2012

Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells

A monastery bell is ironically consistent about one particular thing.  It always calls for change.  Time to stop one activity and begin another.  The sections of a monastic day are spoken into being by the bells.  

Part of me hungers for such bells.  I almost crave the insistent rhythms of their voices.  Predictable, familiar, reliable, steady bells that would insure my prayer and rest; bells that would regulate and balance the pieces of my life.

"Just as soon as we are familiar with one set of daily bells ringing," wrote one of you in the Parlor, "another set replaces them."  Don't we know the truth of this.  Seasons come and go, bringing school bells and wake-up alarms, church bells and wedding bells, baby cries and phones and stovetop buzzer "bells."  They change with every passing year.

Predictable, familiar, reliable, steady?  No.  Out here, it's just not that way.

During this monastic day, bells of "things that must be done" ring out to me.   The calls to prayer, however, are not automatic.  I must find ways to ring them for myself.  Notes stuck to a mirror, a watch alarm, a phone beep....  I have to make my own reminders. 

When it comes to prayer, I must ring my own bells.


 Anyone wishing to share on this is invited to click on this line to do so in The Parlor.  

Go Forth

A few days ago, someone shared this from the Dialogues of St. Catherine of Siena:

"Go forth from this place of contemplation, and bear fruit that will last."

This has been sticking to my spiritual bones.  As I begin a new monastic day,  I won't be lingering for hours in my place of contemplation.  Even those living in a physical monastery do not do that.  Work time always cycles back around; there are things that must be done.  Hopefully the "vein of prayer" has been opened and I'm able to carry on a dialogue with God as I begin another day's work.   But at some point I WILL be going forth.  Maybe to another room to scrub a tub, maybe out to drive carpool, maybe to a job in the city.  

Wherever my day takes me, I have been sent forth.  I've been commissioned.  Whatever my vocation or my occupation(s) may be, I am sent forth by God to bear fruit that will last.  

It's really quite an opportunity.  I wonder what will happen if I spend today thinking about it, letting myself grow in awareness of it, watching for ways in which I can drop a seed of good example here and a word of encouragement there?  Jesus is the Vine, I am a branch.  My Heavenly Father looks upon me as I interact with family and co-workers, as I answer the phone and run out to the bank and write a letter to a friend.

What kind of fruit does He see? 

"The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity."  (Galatians 5:22-23)

"Let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His Name."  (Hebrews 13:15) 


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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lord, Open My Lips

One facet of monastic life that looks "greener on the other side of the fence" to me is the call to prayer.  The bell rings, it's prayer time, and there's no putting it off.  No opening a newspaper, no checking the morning news, no doing "just this one thing" before settling down to prayer.

I don't know about you, but if I do "just one thing" before giving God a few minutes, all too often one thing turns into ten, and before I know it "things" have crowded out prayer altogether.  Again.

Of course, there are important reasons why some of us need to squeeze prayer into a "To-Go-Box" from the minute we get out of bed.  Babies need feeding, kids need to be gotten off to school or schooled at home... but these are not the things that take up my personal time, not anymore.  Even when I have a busy day ahead, I can usually grab at least a few minutes to NOT turn on morning news and NOT check e-mail and to instead give that little chunk of time to God.

But do I?

I will just say this:  it's a struggle.

Sometimes I long for the discipline of a bell.  I long for the accountability of those who will notice if I'm not in my choir stall.  Oh, I know my mind might wander if I were in fact standing there, breviary open before me and my mind still half asleep.  But at least I'd BE there.  I would be praising God, and giving Him at least a chance to whisper...  something... to my sleepy heart.

I sometimes compare "the first prayer of morning" to a time when I received an i.v.  During preparation for the birth of my second child, I was given an i.v. of saline.  Wondering why this was necessary, I was told that it was in case I needed medication administered quickly at any time during the birth.  The doctor wanted to have an open vein, ready to receive help on a moment's notice.

Years later, the memory of that came back to me as I pondered the grace of morning prayer.  If I pray, even briefly, early in the morning, I am in effect "opening the vein."  Once I've begun conversation with God, prayers on-the-go are somehow easier throughout the day.  I believe inspirations from God are more easily grasped as well.

At the start of our first monastic day (three weeks ago!), some of us talked about how we fit dedicated time with God into our days.  Have there been any changes in our prayer in these last weeks? 

Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise.  

"Live on in Me, as I do in you.  No more than a branch can bear fruit of itself apart from the vine can you bear fruit apart from Me.  I am the Vine, you are the branches.  He who lives in me, and I in him, will produce abundantly, for apart from Me you can do nothing."  (John 15:4-5) 

Text not in quotes

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Our Next Monastic Day

Just as I was preparing to write this post, someone wrote me something which so struck me that I'm beginning our next monastic day with it.

"While I know the cloister itself is not calling me," writes our friend, "how I can better serve our Lord does."

Ah ha.  Isn't that the very core of it?  Isn't that why we're looking into the idea of monasticism?  Isn't that why we're here on earth?  To serve Our Lord? 

We have seen how the day begins in a monastery.  If the Community is one that gathered to sing praise at the call of the Night Bells, the Monks or Nuns have gone back to bed for a few hours before rising again.  They wake to another time of prayer.  Sometimes a monastic community has a period of individual, silent, mental prayer (in chapel) before they chant the Morning Office.

In my own private prayer today, I've been (again) considering reasons for monastic life, and why it calls to me so deeply even as I live "out here" in the midst of the world.   

I am drawn by monasticism's absolute totality. As I've written before, the person coming into the cloister doesn't stick her head inside the enclosure and leave her arms and legs dangling outside.  It just won't work.

Yet how often do I (maybe without even knowing it) give God "only so much," holding little corners of my life in reserve for, well... me?  Obeying some of His commandments, but ignoring the ones I don't particularly like.  Trusting Him to take care of this thing and that thing... but managing this other one myself, because I'm not sure what He will do if I put THAT into His hands.

Absolute totality.  It is a process.  It's a process even for those in the physical monastery, for while they've pulled their bodies inside, parts of their hearts (surely must) linger for awhile outside the walls.

But even though the totality is a process, for the cloistered individual a decision has been made.  "I do not want to settle for anything less than a total gift of self":  that is the heart cry of a monastic.

I do not want to settle for anything less than a total gift of self:  that is my heart cry.

And so, as we proceed through the rhythms of our next monastic day, I want to keep in mind the reason for monasticism, for it applies to us as well:  To better serve Our Lord.

"One cannot give Christ a limited place in one's life."  (Louis Bouyer, The Meaning of the Monastic Life, PJ Kenedy and Sons, NY, 1950, p. x)

"Monastic life is nothing else, no more and no less, than a Christian life whose Christianity has penetrated every part of it.  (Bouyer, p. 13)

"The monk is precisely the Christian who has recognized in Christ 'the way, the truth, the life' and who intends to act logically over this discovery, a discovery of such a nature that it should not leave any of those who have made it tepid or indifferent."  (Bouyer p. 68) 

Text not in quotes

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Nights of Many Bells

In some monasteries, the new day begins in the middle of the night.  Never having lived this sort of life, I again turn to the experience of one who has done so.  "Not long after midnight," writes Mother Mary Francis PCC, "Sister Sacristan...sets her jaw for what is at once a beautiful and a grim task:  to rouse all the other sleeping nuns.  It is a beautiful task because the sacristan's bell is summoning the community to a midnight tryst with God.  It is a grim business because Poor Clares unfortunately carry their souls about in the same clay casing found on the rest of humanity.  Consequently, though the soul is ready and waiting to go to the choir... the flesh finds the idea not at all stimulating.... Blackness clings to the great, tall windows in the choir, and the huge grille over the altar reaches long fingers of shadow down toward the chanting nuns.... I always feel.. that we are walking down all the avenues of the universe, lighting God's lamps on every corner. (A Right to Be Merry, pp. 115-118)

Out here in the world, I can't identify with bells that rattle me from sleep in the middle of the ni...

O but wait.  O yes.  I can.  The nights of many bells were several decades ago for me now, but some of you are reading these very words between two such nights.  We know what it's like.  We're deep into a sound sleep, having finally fallen exhausted into bed, when the baby cries.  Is it time for her to eat again?... oh, it can't be!  We drag to our feet, get the baby, feed her, and now she needs a diaper change.  Three hours later, this sweet voiced little "bell" rings again.  Several months after this, Baby Girl is finally sleeping six hours straight, but her brother has begun having nightmares.  And then there are those times when a virus sweeps through the family....

Parents, no matter how much we love our little ones, carry our souls about in the same clay casing found on the rest of humanity.  Our hearts want to rush to the baby, want to comfort a scared five year old.  But our flesh does not find crawling from a warm bed stimulating.

On we walk, however.  Out of bed we climb.  We sacrifice comfort to the summons of the night bells.  We are the ones God has put in charge of lighting lamps of love with our tenderness.  If God has placed little Michael in my life and my home and my heart, then little Michael's cry serves as a bell.  Even at midnight.

May we be given grace to hear the goodness in the bells.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Monastic Goodnight

Darkness falls around the monastery.  Recreation is over, and it's time for the Night Office.  The Sisters end their day where they began it, in the presence of their Lord.

The chant of Night Office lulls, comforts, hushes, swaddles, soothes souls into rest.  As the prayer draws to a close, the Sisters will turn toward an icon of Our Blessed Mother and sing a hymn to conclude this monastic day.  And then Grand Silence will fall upon the monastery, after which no one will speak.  

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:

my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:

a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now,
and will be for ever. Amen.

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace....

click picture for a monastic goodnight

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Talk About Talk

As the Sisters' quiet evening at home continues, they gather for evening recreation.  It's time for some relaxed conversation.  

One of the Sisters might bring along a bit of embroidery she's doing to sell in their gift shop.  Another nun is busy with crochet.  Sometimes Mother has an interesting letter from one of their friends to share with everyone.  Occasionally there will be an announcement of some kind. 

Oh, and that reminds me.  I have an announcement of some kind.  

As our monastic day is now drawing toward its close, I want to "announce" that another day will follow right behind it.
It won't be exactly the same, of course.  For one thing, I think it will put more emphasis on bringing elements of monasticism out into our own worlds.  I think.  And I only "think" because I really don't know.  I am trusting God to lead this adventure, and I'm asking for your prayer that He will continue showing us what it means to live totally for Him in this world. 

But I digress.  I suppose that's okay in the middle of a family conversation, which is what evening recreation in a monastery generally is.  A family conversation.  A bit of chatter among friends.  Yes, talk during recreation is that.... but is it exactly like other conversations in the world?  

Hmm.  I suspect not.  Today I was considering some of the possible differences. 

In a gathering of individuals who are bent upon serving God with every attitude and word, are we likely to hear:  
Complaints about ""my headache," "my ear"?
Comparisons between the cooking abilities of, say, Sister Martha and Sister Julia?
Prayer requests for others that include sordid details?  
Making fun of people, whether those persons are present in the gathering or not? 
Criticism of one another?
Snapping at one another?

And what about me, out here in the "world?"  The next time I'm in a gathering of family members/friends/neighbors/co-workers..... might I be influenced by thinking of how Sisters would speak to each other during their Recreations?


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Thursday, September 13, 2012


In most monasteries, the evening meal is simple but adequate.  Like everything else in the monastic life, it is balanced.  It's a harmony of proteins, vegetables, dairy products and fruits, all combining to build well-nourished bodies. 

And of course, there is again Refectory Reading.  It, too, is balanced.  Over any given month, there will be a variety of books, articles, writings of saints.  As the body is nourished, the mind and spirit are being fed as well.

For tonight's refectory reading, I've prepared a platter of brief selections for mind and spirit.  I, for one, intend to settle back for a few minutes, ask Our Lord to inspire my meditations, and enjoy a hopefully well-balanced sampling of thoughts....

"Here I stand, knocking at the door.  If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with Me."  (Revelation 3:20)

"I Myself am the Bread of life.  No one who comes to Me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in Me shall ever thirst."  (John 6:35)

"Through the Eucharist those who live the life of Christ are fed and strengthened."  (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1436)

"From celebration to celebration, as they proclaim the Paschal mystery of Jesus 'until He comes,' the pilgrim people of God advances, 'following the narrow way of the cross,' toward the heavenly banquet, when all the elect will be seated at the table of the kingdom."  (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1344)

"It is no small penance to accommodate our taste to all kinds of food and keep it in subjection to all occurrences.  Besides, this kind of mortification makes no parade, gives no trouble to anyone, and is happily adapted to civilian life."  (St. Francis de Sales)

"An overfed belly will not study willingly."  (a medieval maxim)

"Sister Paula remarked ... how it was 'so nice' that the tornado did not kill us after all, as Sister Catherine's mother had just given us some shrimp and it would be a dreadful shame for a rare treat like that to be blown into Texas where people probably had shrimp any old day."  (Mother Mary Francis PCC, A Right to be Merry, p. 22)

"Happy are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!" (Revelation 19:9)

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Vespers at Home

Over the years, the rooms in my house have become so familiar that I feel they're almost part of my skin.  Day after day I've cared for them, chatted and dreamed and prayed in them, memorized the view from almost every window.  

Today I had a thought that took me aback.  What if one of the rooms in my home was a chapel?  What if, after a hard day of work, the people in my household sat down to relax not on sofas and easy chairs, but in choir stalls and pews?

I suppose what struck me most about this thought was that a cloistered nun doesn't just visit her chapel.  She lives with it.  She lives IN it.  She spends at least as much time there as I do in my living room.  It's where she gathers with the rest of her monastic family:  morning, noon and night.  When she's tired from a day of work in garden or kitchen or sewing room, the chapel is where she begins her quiet evening at home.  

The quiet evening is ushered in with the Office of Vespers, which is technically (normally) in late afternoon.  Again Sisters slip noiselessly into choir stalls.  It is time to blend their voices into graceful hymns of praise.

The chant is back and forth, as always.  In most monastic settings, one row of choir stalls faces another.  Side one sings the first part in unison; side two calls out a response....

God, come to my assistance. 
Lord, make haste to help me.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. 
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.  Amen.  Alleluia....

The chant gives praise to God.  It soothes the souls of its singers as well. How could it help but do so?  Its notes are even, practiced, measured, calming.  The surroundings are like a balm to those to whom they've become so familiar.

After all, this is home.

"Within us there is a palace of immense magnificence.  The entire edifice is built of gold and precious stones.... Truly there is no building of such great beauty as a pure soul, filled with virtues, and the greater these virtues, the brighter these stones sparkle... In this palace the great King lodges, Who has been pleased to become your Guest, and.. He sits there on a throne of tremendous value: your heart."  (St. Teresa of Avila)

Text not in quotes

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Laborare est Orare

 Laborare est Orare
 To work is to Pray
  motto of the Benedictine Order

The bell rings again; free time is concluded.  There is work yet to be done in this monastic day.   Quietly, residents of the monastery go back to the chores that have been assigned.... 

"Whatsoever good work you undertake, pray earnestly to God that He will enable you to bring it to a successful conclusion."  The Rule of St. Benedict

"He who labors as he prays lifts his heart to God with his hands."  St. Bernard

"We must try to converse with God in little ways while we do our work... we should purely and simply reveal our hearts as the words come to us."  Brother Lawrence

"I love Him while I ply my needle..." Elizabeth of the Trinity

"Labor, as well as fasting, serves to mortify and subdue the flesh.  Provided the labor you undertake contributes to the glory of God and your own welfare,  I would prefer that you should suffer the pain of labor rather than that of fasting."  St. Francis de Sales 

"I find a heaven in the midst of saucepans and brooms."  St. Stanislaus Kostka

"You will become a saint by complying exactly with your daily duties."   St. Mary Joseph Rossello

"Work done with impetuosity and precipitation is never done well; we must make haste slowly.... Accept all the duties that come your way peacefully, taking them in order one by one.  St. Francis de Sales

"Your heart to God and your hands to work."  St. Mary Joseph Rossello 

"During the greater part of His life Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings:  a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor."  Catechism of the Catholic Church #531 

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

Click here to continue reading "Our Monastic Day"....

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Deo Gratias!

I would like to take a moment to especially welcome anyone who has just stumbled across this blog, or who might have been away from "screen visitations" for a few weeks.  

It can be strange to return from vacation, or from getting the children settled into a new school year.... and then come back to a blog to find writers and readers in the midst of something like "a monastic day." 

What's this all about, anyway?  Would I even be able to "catch up?"  

To answer the first question:  we are in the middle of looking into a few facets of a "monastic day."  We're proceeding more or less in order, from morning to night.  

And to answer the second question:  yes.   

If you look at the top of this screen, you should see the words "A Monastic Day" at the far right.  If you click on that, you'll find all of the parts so far of this "monastic day," placed in the order in which they were posted.  As you probably know, if you click on a title, it will open right up. 

Welcome back!  Or welcome for the first time, whichever the case may be.  And you can leave comments if you like, by clicking this line to get to the "parlor."  It's good to have you here! 

"As soon as anyone knocks, the doorkeeper must answer Deo Gratias, or give him a blessing, and open the gate quickly."  (from the Rule of St. Benedict)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Free Time

Yes, those living the monastic life do have some time to themselves during the day (were we beginning to wonder?). There are moments when the nuns or monks can do what they please.  Of course, what they do in these moments will please God too, for their whole lifestyle is one of pleasing Him.  Pleasing God is the purpose of their lives.

Perhaps a nun will spend a few minutes in the garden, giving herself time to savor the glories of creation.  She may read a book, or catch up on personal correspondence.  She might even have a brief rest in her cell.  And if Sister nods off, there is no fear of oversleeping.  There will always be a bell.....

In our lives in the world, we have free time also.  Some of us, of course, have more of it than others.   But there are moments in each day when even the busiest among us may not be shuffling papers or cooking meals or sorting laundry.

I, for one, would like to form such a habit of pleasing God that no matter what I may be doing with my time, I can know that what I do is great with Him.  Whether I'm writing a letter, reading a book, talking on the phone, visiting a friend, seeing a movie, I want my lifestyle to be one of pleasing Him.

I want pleasing God to be the purpose of my life.

(Nancy Shuman photo)

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Friday, September 7, 2012

My Choir Stall

The bell clangs again, it's time for midafternoon prayer.  Once more, residents of the monastery gather in the choir stalls to sing His praise.

Again the swish of habits, the sliding of soft soles across floors, the quiet rustle of Breviaries being opened and pages being turned.  Sisters move to their places without hesitation; there is no wondering where any one goes today, for it's always the same.  Once choir stalls*  are assigned, they are easily remembered.  After all, a nun prays in the same one numerous times a day, seven days a week.

The swell of the organ, a blending of voices, the singing of praise.  Outside, potatoes for dinner may be half dug from the garden, but Sister Gardener left them behind at the summons of the bell.  Perhaps there's a prospect of rain this afternoon, and Sister Gardener might have disliked dropping her shovel to come indoors for this brief Office.  She may be distracted, listening for a rumble of thunder; but here she is, and here she sings.

My life in the world is not like this.  I say again:  my life in the world is not supposed to be like this.  I might hope for a particular time today for prayer, but I don't drop a pan or the baby to rush away to it. 

There is something I can do, however.  I can bring the prayer to me.  My "choir stall" is both permanent and portable.  My designated prayer place is the choir stall of my heart.  So:  while boiling water, shuffling files in an office, diapering the baby, I can praise God.

With a simple three word aspiration, I can praise Him.  I can do so silently (the recommended prayer-style in the workplace!); while in the solitude of my home or car - and especially while rocking a baby - I might even want to sing a hymn.

Wherever I am and whatever I'm doing, I have a choir stall in my heart. 

"Let my soul live to praise You."  (Psalm 119:175) 

"I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall be ever in my mouth."  (Psalm 34:2)
* a choir stall is a chair in the chapel, where a nun or monk prays

Text not in quotes

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Nothing Else But Christ

At some time during the day, nuns or monks are likely to have a time of study.  Certainly this is true for postulants and novices, but classes are often conducted for the long-professed as well.  After all, there is much to learn about the God they have come here to serve.  There is also a lot to learn about any given order, about its charisms and reasons for being.  

As a "heart-monastic," what is MY reason for being?  For being HERE ... in a monastery of the heart?

More than twenty years ago, Father Michael Scanlan T.O.R. placed the Cloistered Heart on a sure path with one solid nugget of advice. "Study Orders of Consecrated life," Father said to me. I have been doing this ever since. 

For our "study time" today, I'd like to share some of the gems I've uncovered. These speak to the most basic core of monasticism, and thus - in ways we might each reflect upon if we listen to the Holy Spirit of God - they can speak to us.

"The fundamental question: ' does he really seek God.'  Let us state the fact without beating about the bush:  a monastic institute which ceased to put this question to its postulants, or which inserted some different question in its place, would cease ipso facto to have any right to the name monastic.  The search, the true search, in which the whole of one's being is engaged, not for some thing but for some One:  is the search for God.  That is the beginning and end of monasticism.  If it is to be truly God which we seek, we have to seek him as a Person."  (The Meaning of the Monastic Life, Lois Bouyer of the Oratory, PJ Kenedy and Sons, NY, 1950,p. 8)

"The Christian life is nothing else but Christ; the monastic life is nothing else but Christ.  The requirements for the Christian and for the monk are in substance the same....  whether it is union with Him in the world or in the cloister, it is union that is the soul's purpose.  Nothing else matters but this."  (The Yoke of Divine Love, Dom Hubert Van Zeller, Templegate, Springfield IL, 1960, p. 182)

"In every Christian vocation lies the germ of a monastic vocation."   (Bouyer, The Meaning of the Monastic Life, from preface)

"Monastic life is nothing else, no more and no less, than a Christian life whose Christianity has penetrated every part of it."  (Bouyer, The Meaning of the Monastic Life, p. 13)

Can Christianity penetrate every part of MY life, out here in the midst of the world?

Do I see the germ of a monastic vocation in myself?
If so, how can I nurture it and help it grow?

Do I really want to seek the living Person of God?

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Silence is the normal language of a monastic community.  That changes, however, during Recreation.

Afternoon Recreations may be indoors (especially during inclement weather), perhaps with most of the Community together.  Sometimes Sisters take strolls around the grounds, however, or engage in outdoor games, or relax in the garden and chat.  I knew of one cloistered nun who (I'm sorry to say!) broke a limb sledding down a "monastic hill" in the snow.  And if there is a lake or pond on the property, the photo on this post would not be an altogether surprising sight.

"To take the air," says St. Francis de Sales, "to walk, to entertain ourselves with cheerful and friendly conversation.... these are such innocent recreations that in a proper use of them there is need only of that common prudence which gives to everything its due order, time, place and measure." 

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Turnips for Potatoes

The noon meal is "Dinner" in the monastery.  It is the main meal, taken when bodies and minds are in need of sustenance to equip them for the rest of the day's duties.

This time the nuns sit to eat, which they do in silence.  One of the Sisters reads aloud to all, from a holy book or article.  Minds and bodies are thus nourished and refreshed. 

(I assume the men reading this will forgive my continued use of the words "sisters" and "nuns".... for being a woman, it is with such that I identify.  However, the word "monk" can apply just as well).  

Again I hope the publishers of what I'm about to share might forgive my use of a rather substantial quote - for I am recommending this book.  I now prepare to "stand before you" and read to you as you "dine."  Before I do so, I need to mention that the Poor Clares referred to in this reading do not eat meat.

I find the following selection particularly appropriate for a Refectory Reading, for this scene opens with exactly that:

"Sometimes the reading is momentarily interrupted by an important announcement from Mother Abbess to the effect that 'the squash is for potatoes.  The salad is the third portion.'  After years of listening to these quaint flashes, I still relish them with secret mirth, and not least because of the judge-like gravity of countenance and tone with which Mother Abbess unfailingly makes them.  A Poor Clare meal consists always of soup, vegetable, potato, fruit and the famous 'third portion.'  That last is an ancient monastic term for the main dish of the meal..

"The nuns are very set in their monastic ways.  If we have no potatoes, then some understudy must be summoned from the culinary wings to play their role.  Thus, the pronouncement: 'Dear Sisters, the turnips are for potatoes.'   Now, the turnips will most likely be accompanied by cabbage, and the mystery as to which of these two plebs is to rise to potato status is known only to cooks and abbesses... the implication is that a Poor Clare's digestion would be seriously impaired if she did not know whether cabbage is this day passing itself off as potatoes or preserving the integrity of its name... 

"'Dear Sisters, the carrots are for potatoes,' Mother Abbess would solemnly announce on Friday.  On Saturday we heard:  'Dear Sisters, the carrot salad is the vegetable.'  When all of us sat on the edge of our chairs on Monday, wondering what variations could possibly remain, Mother Abbess would declare sweetly and gravely:  'Dear Sisters, the carrots and turnips are mixed vegetables and potatoes.'  Poor Clare abbesses are not easily worsted."  

(Mother Mary Francis PCC, A Right To Be Merry, Franciscan Herald Press, 1956  and 1973, pp.  25-126. This book is now published by Ignatius Press)

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While I have Your Attention...

Late morning prayer has just finished, and I will take this opportunity to make a few announcements. 

First:  I've realized that our monastic day, even as long as it is, does not carry "everything" within each part.  I have a feeling we'll enter another day right after this one, a day during which we might go into more depth here and there.  But we need THIS day to prepare for that one.... and we need THIS day in which to begin looking, in earnest, into how the monastic routine can help US live for God in the world.  I like the fact that this is happening gradually, because I find it's giving me time to really apply some of the things we're considering to my daily life.  And application is key. 

Second:  recently I found the following chart of Prayer Hours.  I am sorry that I don't know the exact source of this, or if it's complete as printed here.  If you have something to share about it, please click on this line to do so in the Parlor.

In the meantime, Sisters are filing out of the chapel.  They do so in quiet, for silence is the language of the monastery.

And surprise !!  This is not "today's post!"

While everyone else looks over this chart, I'm on dinner-duty, so I hope to see you back here in a few minutes....

Hour of the Day Latin Name English Name
During the Night Matins Readings
Sunrise Lauds Morning Prayer
First Hour Prime
Third Hour Terce Mid-morning Prayer
Sixth Hour Sext Midday Prayer
Ninth Hour None Mid-afternoon Prayer
As evening approaches  Vespers Evening Prayer
Nightfall Compline Night Prayer

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Bell Again

Work continues in the monastery this morning.  Just as Sister Anne pours cheese sauce for dinner and Sister Jeanne explains the Order's history to a postulant, the bell rings. 

Sauce is covered swiftly with a cloth, a book is closed, and Sisters quickly gather in the chapel.  They seem to have sprung suddenly from everywhere, yet they come in silence.  Only the swish of habits and the muffled sounds of  footsteps can be heard.

The nuns enter easily into prayer, for they have never really left it.

The bell has signaled communal prayer again.  Nuns align themselves in an orderly fashion, in places assigned to them.  The transition from scrubbing to praying is seamless, as they bow to the One Who is their reason for being.  In the midst of a world swarming with those who do not know that God is the Reason for everything, the Sisters stand and proclaim this Truth.  They sing with all their hearts to Him; they chant and offer praise.

As we look around in our own world day by day, we may not find many who know that God is the Reason for being.  We may not live surrounded by others praising Him.

In this world where Jesus is not loved (for the most part), adored, thanked, glorified - we can be His praisers.

Think of it!

It's possible that in the office where you work, or in a grocery line, or in a dentist's waiting room, YOU could be the only person praying at any given time.  To think of this one thing has been a revolutionary idea for me. 

I can adore Our Lord wherever I may be!  I can sing to Him inwardly.  I can love Him in the cloister of my heart, in the very midst of a world where He is not loved. 

I may not go to a chapel in late morning.  But in the midst of daily duties, I can offer praise.


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Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Cloister: a Video Visit

As our monastic day continues, I've realized that we have a precious resource right at our fingertips.  Quite literally.

All it takes is a few taps of fingers on keys and we can "be" right in the very monastery I wrote of in our "breakfast" post.

Over the months, I've grown so accustomed to the precious resource of monastic links on this blog's sidebar that I haven't thought to look at them in awhile.  Last night, however, I did so, and - lo and behold.  There was the very refectory I had written about visiting, and there were the Sisters standing, having breakfast in silence.

I've been privileged to go for retreat a number of times at the Visitation Monastery in Tryingham, Massachusetts, and I really would like to "take you back with me!"  These two videos should do this quite well.  If you have seen these before, I recommend a re-viewing, keeping in mind the physical elements of "our monastic day."

This particular monastery does not use grillwork (I say this lest you wonder why it isn't there).  The Community relocated from Delaware in the mid 1990s, and in the new building there are partial walls and altar railings marking the boundaries of enclosure.

If you are interested in the atmosphere and life of a cloistered community, I think you will find these visits well worth your time. (click on them to view)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

We Begin Because of Love

Someone e-mailed yesterday with a beautiful insight.  Work, said my friend, should come from our desire to love God with all that is in us.  

She wrote: "If I can't yet perform the action with love, perhaps I can begin by doing it because of love. The Little Flower didn't necessarily love washing dishes, but she loved God and because of it, she washed the dishes."

I love this.  I can live with this.  I can, hopefully, remember this and apply it in my daily life. 

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