Thursday, May 31, 2012


The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is one of my favorite feasts.  On so many levels, it speaks... I would even say it sings... to my life as a cloistered heart.

As we've said in the last few days, Mary visited Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56) because she had BEEN Visited by God.  She didn't go to Elizabeth alone - she went with the Presence of Christ inside her.  As one living "cloistered for Jesus" in the midst of the world, I carry Christ inside me as well.  Oh, not in the same unique way, certainly.  But according to Scripture and Church teaching, I indeed carry Him within. 

Mary went on a simple visit to Elizabeth.  It was an occasion that I'm sure went unnoticed by many.  A woman went to visit her kinswoman; something that happened all the time.   No one would have cried out: "look, there goes Mary on mission!" or "how about that!  This visit will be written of in the Bible!"  From the merely human perspective, it was simply a time of normal interaction between two women, two relatives.  

And so it is with us. You and I have opportunities every single day to visit people with the presence of Christ.  In the everyday activities of life, we visit family members, neighbors, store clerks, e-mailers, callers on the phone. 

I find it extremely helpful when I make a conscious effort to visit these persons with the love of Our Lord.  That is - with an awareness of Christ within me.  I have found that it makes quite a difference in my attitude when I think of things this way. 

It is the essence, in my estimation, of living in the world as a cloistered heart.  

I could go on and on about this topic, for I have two directions in mind.  I hope to share those over the next few days, for each by itself is a specific thought.  For now, however, I want to leave us with a question.

What might happen if I make a conscious effort to go through today "on visitation?"  

What if I first visit the Lord in prayer, and then specifically visit every person I encounter with the love of Christ?  This does not mean I have to say or do anything that will draw attention.  It can mean that I pray a silent aspiration for the mailman, smile at a harried store clerk, relate to family members with patience.  I might even write a note to a sick friend, send an e-mail of encouragement, call a lonely relative.  

My visitations can be simple and unnoticed.   But as I carry the love of Christ to those around me, I have a feeling that all of heaven will rejoice.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

To Be Visited

To be Visited by God Himself.  

It is what Pentecost was all about.  

It is what receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion is all about.  

It's what my life and your life are about.  We have the opportunity... at Mass, at adoration, in prayer, at every moment in which we seek Him,  to be Visited by God Himself.   

On this eve of the Feast of the Visitation, I'm reflecting upon opportunities I have to carry Jesus to those around me.  But I cannot visit WITH Him if I have not first been Visited BY Him.  A "cloistered heart" without the Presence of Christ would be, in fact, no such thing.  And so I ask, for each of us, that we will have grace to open our hearts to a deeper infilling of the Holy Spirit.  

May we seek Him, trust Him, visit Him in prayer.   

May we have new eyes to recognize His Visitations in every area of our lives.  

“Are you not aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
"When anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God."  (1 John 4:15)

“Most beautiful of creatures, who desires so ardently to know the dwelling place of your Beloved in order to seek Him and be united with Him, you are yourself the refuge where He takes shelter, the dwelling place in which He hides Himself. Your Beloved, your Treasure, your one Hope is so close to you as to live within you." (St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle)

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Visit - With a Capital V

Today we find ourselves (here on this blog, at least) back at the scene of the Annunciation.  That might seem strange immediately after Pentecost, but in two days we'll be celebrating the feast of our Blessed Mother's visit to Elizabeth.  As we know, there would have been no visitation without the Annunciation.  And the scene of the visitation, I believe, has much to teach those who would go through the world with Christ "cloistered" in our hearts. 

When I read the first chapter of Luke, several things strike me:

Mary visited because she had BEEN Visited.  She made her visitation because first she'd HAD a Visitation.  Mary had been Visited by God in a way totally unique in human history, and then she went in haste to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, who had also been Visited by God.  

Mary had a choice to make in response to this Visitation of God upon her.  Yes, she had been conceived without sin, but still she had free will.  She was not totally choiceless in the matter.  Eve had been created without sin also - she could have said no to the promptings of evil and yes to the will of God.  Mary, conceived without sin, still could have said no.  Instead, she uttered the Yes which opened wide the door through which our Savior entered the world.

Mary's action immediately after being overshadowed with the power of the Most High was to set out in haste to visit Elizabeth, who had also been Visited by God.  Mary carried the Presence of Christ Himself to Elizabeth, to John in Elizabeth's womb, to Zechariah.  Our Blessed Mother did not make her visitation taking only herself.  She carried within her the Presence of God.

There was a reaction to the Presence of Christ carried within Mary.  The babe in Elizabeth leapt for joy. 

As she visited Elizabeth and the two marveled at the Visitations of God upon them, Mary burst forth in praise.  

Over the next few days, we will look more deeply into the scene of the visitation.  As we do, I pray that Our Lord will powerfully Visit each of our hearts.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012


The painting on this post is extra large.  It breaks across boundaries, crosses neat edges of the sidebar, and in effect has this blog bursting at the seams.

At first, I was going to make the image smaller.  Then I realized:  this is a picture of Pentecost, and a painting bursting through the boundaries may actually have something to show us. 

The Holy Spirit of God burst into our world on Pentecost.  Not with a gentle whisper - not this time.  He came suddenly, with noise like a strong, driving wind. Tongues as of fire appeared and came to rest on each person.  As we are told in Acts 2, all were filled with the Holy Spirit, expressing themselves in foreign tongues and making bold proclamation.  There was so much noise that it drew quite a crowd.  The onlookers were "confused," "amazed," "astonished," "dumbfounded."  Peter, who had once denied Jesus out of fear, stood up and proclaimed boldly what the Spirit was doing.

The events of that day certainly did not fit into neat, tidy categories.  Suddenly, the world the apostles had known was bursting at the seams. 

The shaken onlookers had never seen anything like this.  "What are we to do?" they asked.  Peter, now emboldened, had an answer.  "You must reform and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, that your sins may be forgiven; then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It was to you and your children that the promise was made, and to all those still far off whom the Lord our God calls."  (Acts 2:37-39) 

"To all those still far off whom the Lord our God calls." 

This promise is for us!  We are far from that day (as we measure time), but we have been called.  We are promised the forgiveness of sins.  We are promised the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We are, in effect, promised a breakthrough.  If we let Him, the Holy Spirit of God can tear down anything and everything that walls us off from receiving the absolute fullness of His grace.

"Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of Your faithful.  Enkindle in them the fire of your divine love.  Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth." 

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(Pentecost painting by Jean Restout)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Her First Visitation

Michiel Coxie "Annunciation"
As we know, it's almost the Feast of Pentecost, when we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the disciples.

As we also know, Pentecost was not the first time our Blessed Mother received a Visitation from God.

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy Offspring to be born will be called Son of God."  (Luke 1:35)

Immediately upon saying these words to Mary, the angel added:  "Know that Elizabeth your kinswoman has conceived a son in her old age.."  (Luke 1:36)  Mary then went in haste to Elizabeth, an event we will be celebrating on May 31st. 

I tend to think of these things (the Annunciation, the Visitation, Pentecost) together, because I like to meditate upon their connections. 

After all, there would have been no Pentecost if there had been no Incarnation.  

There would have been no visitation of Mary to Elizabeth if there had been no Annunciation. 

Without God's Visitation to Mary and her total yes to Him, we would have had no Savior, no Cross, no Resurrection, no gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, no Church. 

Over the next few days, I hope to look more (here) into these sacred connections.  I also hope to consider how we, ourselves, are visited by God, and how we can visit others with His Presence.  After all, in order to visit others with the Spirit of God, we must first BE Visited by Him.  

With this in mind, I pray that we will be graced to open our hearts more fully to the Holy Spirit. I pray that we will seek His Visitation upon our souls, that we will visit Him in praise and adoration, that we will carry Him tenderly to those around us. 

As we prepare for the glorious Feast of Pentecost, may we be open to His love, His holiness, His cleansing, and His grace. 

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be My witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth."  (Acts 1:8)

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

How Do I Love Thee?

Occasionally a "secular" song or poem becomes, for me, a prayer.  Because I find specific meaning in virtually every line of it, this is probably THE prime example:  

How do I love Thee? Let me count the ways.
I love Thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love Thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love Thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love Thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love Thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love Thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love Thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; 
And, if God choose,
I shall but love Thee better after death.
                 (Elizabeth Barret Browning)  

“The perfect love of God does not consist in delights, tears and sentiments of devotion that we generally desire.  It consists, rather, in a strong determination and burning desire to please God in all things, and in the effort to avoid offending Him as far as possible and to promote His glory.” (St. Teresa of Avila)

“We should love God because He is God, and the measure of our love should be to love Him without measure.” (St. Bernard)

“The surest way to determine whether one possesses love of God is to see whether he loves his neighbor.  These two loves are never separated.” (St. Teresa of Avila)

“Love means obeying You.” (Charles de Foucauld)

“The soul who is in love with God is a gentle, humble and patient soul.” (St. John of the Cross).

“Love of God is acquired by resolving to work and suffer for God and to abstain from all that displeases Him when the temptations arise.  The better to do this in great things one must grow accustomed to it in little things.” (St. Teresa of Avila)

“I ask Thy holy love, which will detach me from all creatures, and particularly from myself, that I may love nothing but Thee, and Thy most holy will.” (St. Alphonsus Liguori)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

In the Cloister Garden

I spent part of today working in the cloister garden (above). Seasons have their effects on cloister gardens; and as we know, seasons of life have effects on our souls....

"Let us advance; let us make our way through these low valleys of the humble and little virtues.  We shall see in them the roses amid the thorns, charity that shows its beauty among interior and exterior afflictions, the lilies of purity, the violets of mortification: what virtues shall we not see?" (St. Francis de Sales)

"The beginner must think of himself as setting out to make a garden in which the Lord is to take His delight, yet in soil most unfruitful and full of weeds.  His Majesty uproots the weeds and will set good plants in their stead.  We have now, by God’s help like good gardeners, to make these plants grow.  We must water them carefully, so that they may not perish, but may produce flowers which shall send forth great fragrance to give refreshment to this Lord of ours, so that he may often come into the garden to take his pleasure and his delight among these virtues." (St. Teresa of Avila)

"Have good courage to cultivate this vineyard, contributing your little effort to the spiritual good of the souls that the Lord has reserved for Himself lest they ‘bend their knees before Baal.. in the midst of a people that has unclean lips.’  Do not be surprised if the fruits do not yet appear, because if you do the work of God patiently, your labor will not be in vain."  (St. Francis de Sales)

"I am the true vine and My Father is the vinegrower. He prunes away every barren branch, but the fruitful ones He trims clean to increase their yield.  You are clean already, thanks to the word I have spoken to you.  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.  A man who does not live in Me is like a withered, rejected branch, picked up to be thrown into the fire and burnt."  (John 15:1-6)

"Prayer is to our soul what rain is to the soil.  Fertilize the soil ever so richly; it will remain barren unless fed by frequent rains." (St. John Vianney)

"We must give the flowers - that is, the glory - to God, and the fruits (our services) to the neighbor." (St. Catherine of Siena)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cloistered Here? Absolutely!

I once had a dream about a carnival.  Specifically, I dreamed I was in a little house on carnival grounds.  It was night, but the light streaming in through my windows was bright and garish.  It flashed bursts of purple and white and blue and red and yellow, ceaselessly, across walls and floors and faces.  

There were other people in the house, sitting quietly in my little living room.  The faces around were serene and still.  I knew we were praying.

It was a "staying" sort of dream, the kind you carry with you throughout the day and perhaps long after.  I felt it captured much of the essence of my life as a cloistered heart. 

Like the house in my dream, my life is encircled by "the carnival." I don't have to look far to see the truth of this, although I often forget it.  I live surrounded by so many things that don't really matter in the long run... things that carry the atmosphere of carnival.... the chase after fun, self-indulgence, riches, entertainment, pleasure, the pursuit of what pleases me-me-me.  Yes, that last sentence contains redundancies; and yes, the carnival does as well.  Like a wheel spinning round and round going nowhere, the carnival spins back to self and I and me and mine and what I can get out of life.

It's tough not to get caught up in the carnival.  After all, there is much in it that can be legitimately enjoyed.  But oh, how easy it is to let the clamor and excitement, the music and the neon, the magic and illusion take my focus off what really matters!  It is a constant struggle.

How to live in the carnival while not being part of it?  Perhaps, for me, a clue lies within the dream.   I am to remain in that little house of prayer, in the cloister of God's will, wherever I may go.  I am to keep the light of prayer lit within it, for that will illuminate the shadows and reveal the Truth of God.  

Like a turtle in its shell, I can carry the cloister with me. I can live in a house of peace, in the midst of the carnival's neon glare.   

"The world with its seductions is passing away, but the man who does God's will endures forever."  (1 John 2:17)


Monday, May 14, 2012

Thee I Praise...

A word jumped out at me this morning, from a simple text.  The word was "worship."

I have thought about it all day.  What does it mean to worship, and why does the mere word capture my heart?  I went in search of an adequate definition... and then I realized.... 

I can't define worship.  The dictionary can't define worship.  Like poetry, worship "shows," it does not "tell."  It praises, thanks, sings, adores, celebrates, exalts, surrenders, prostrates, loves.  So I will not waste attempts at the telling.  I will let a handful of worshipers show...

"Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights.  Praise Him, all His angels, praise Him, all His hosts."  (Psalm 148:1-2)

"Throughout the long hours I adore You, oh living Bread, amidst the great drought in my soul.  O Jesus, pure Love, I do not need consolations; I am nourished by Your will."  (St. Faustina, Diary #195)

"Thee I praise, O God my delight, for upon Thy Cross I have made my bed."  (Blessed Angela of Foligno)

"O my Jesus, I love You, and I want to worship You with my very weakness, submitting myself entirely to Your holy will."  (St. Faustina, Diary #782)

"In the fire, Azariah stood up and prayed aloud:  'Blessed are You, and praiseworthy, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and glorious forever is Your Name.  For you are just in all you have done; all your deeds are faultless, all your ways right, and all your judgements proper...'"  (Daniel 3:25-27)

"I recall that I received most light during adoration.... During that time, I came to know myself and God more profoundly."  (St. Faustina, Diary #147)

"To the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, be praise and honor, glory and might, forever and ever!"  (Revelation 5:13)

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Friday, May 11, 2012

To Carry the Fire

Some years ago, it occurred to me that a cloistered heart may feel (and be) like someone standing with a candle in an artificially lighted room. We have found, in Scripture and Holy Mother Church, the fire of God's love.  Holding in our hearts this genuine, precious Light of truth, often we find ourselves in the presence of something that appears to be light, but that is no more fire than a light bulb is fire.  

We have all experienced "artificial light."  We live surrounded by it.  The world is drowning in it.  It is the "light" that says we're doing just fine without God.  It's the "light" that, if it credits God for even existing, shoves Him to the periphery and makes its own way without Him.  It reminds us, in one way after another, that we are now "enlightened."  We have harnessed electricity, been to the moon, decided when life is valuable enough (to us) to be born and when it's useless enough (to us) to end.  It's quite convenient and tidy, this artificial light.   It reveals the ingenuity of mankind, and it's more appealing than a messy candle that burns to a nub as it carries the flame.  It is today's light, self-sufficient and broad-minded, and certainly more sophisticated than the humble flame once carried by John, Peter, Paul, Benedict, Francis, Therese. 

I suppose we would feel quite foolish if we were to stand around in electrically lighted rooms holding candles.  We would know people were talking about us behind their hands, probably snickering,  perhaps feeling sorry for someone so silly as to stand with an old fashioned candle in a lighted room. 

But what if there were a storm, a lightning strike, a downed power line?  What if the room suddenly fell into darkness?  It's at such times that people dash about in search of candles. 

Storms come to everyone, at some time or other.  The artificial light reaches only so far.  Regardless of how bathed in self-sufficiency a person may be, eventually there is sickness, there are crises, there are times when darkness falls and the lights we've relied upon all of our lives flicker out (we've all heard of churches filling up after widespread disasters).  It is often during times of storm when people go in search of Real Light.  It is then that they look for those who carry it. 

As ones who live for God in the midst of the world, we are surrounded by the light that is no light... or at best is temporary "this-world-light."  We might feel different from our neighbors if we're seen to be carrying the Real Thing.  We may be known as ones who don't hold the "popular" opinion, ones who live as if God actually exists, ones who go so far as to live as Jesus said to live.

If so, we can know we are not alone.  We can remember that God is with us, that the saints dealt with the very same thing, and that there are "carriers of the fire" all around the world, in this very age of the Church.

We can also know that God has us where He wants us, in our neighborhoods and workplaces and families.  All around, there are people who are (whether they realize it or not) looking for living, breathing examples of the Real Thing.

If storms come to their lives, such persons may be relieved to find us there, still standing firm, still caring.  Still giving example.  Still loving.  Still carrying the Flame. 

"Your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father."  (Matthew 5:16)


(Godfried Schalcken painting in US public domain)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

He is Present

"Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you, for you alone?  He burns with the desire to come into your heart."  (St. Therese of Lisieux)

"As two pieces of wax fused together make one, so he who receives Holy Communion is so united with Christ that Christ is in him and he is in Christ."  (St. Cyril of Alexandria) 

"In imitation of Mother Mary, whose soul was completely centered upon the Child within her womb, this same contentment may be attained by those who have received Holy Communion and with sure faith feel that which 'neither flesh nor blood but the heavenly Father has revealed to them' (Matthew 6:17).  They know that their Savior in body and soul is present with a most real presence in their body and in their soul in this more adorable Sacrament."  (St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God)

"Since Christ Himself has said 'this is My Body' - who shall dare to doubt that It is His Body?"  (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)

"Although you feel tepid, approach with confidence; for the greater your infirmity, the more you stand in need of a Physician."  (St. Bonaventure)

"Because Christ Himself is present in the sacrament of the altar, He is to be honored with the worship of adoration.  'To visit the Blessed Sacrament is.. a proof of gratitude, an expression of love, and a duty of adoration toward Christ our Lord' (Paul VI)" (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1418)

"The Tabernacle is a reminder of Christ's life in us and of our surrender to Him.  We, too, are the Living Tabernacle of Jesus, a reminder, also, that our life is not governed by appearances and impressions, but by faith in the invisible Reality.  He is there as the ever-flowing Source of Grace, as our Invisible Director and Helper.  Being the living Centre of our life, He must become the Centre of our hearts and minds, the Centre to Which we are directed and from which we judge all our problems, as well as the world's."  (The Living Pyx of Jesus, Pelligrini, 1941, p. 19)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Back from Basics

Sometimes I want to search back through a blog, but don't know where to start.... especially since blogs read "backwards," with the latest entries showing up onscreen first.  With this in mind, today I used the Basics page (in the list at the top of this page) to provide some links to earlier posts that are, well.... basic... !

I included only a few topics, and entered individual links one by one.  Links show up in the order in which they were written (the earliest first). 

If you would like a basic idea of what we mean, for instance, by "the grillwork of God's will," hopefully you can get an overall sense of it by checking links in the basics page. 

It was a busy day up in the trees of our little cloistered oasis.  If you happened to check in while "pieces of cloister" were scattered randomly about, you'll be very glad I tidied up before I climbed back down....

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Cloistered Lightship

We who live for God in the world can find much to identify with by having a look at lightships.  These are vessels responsible for carrying light where a lighthouse cannot go. 

Lighthouses must be built on land. Their job is to keep a ship on course and to warn of treacherous obstacles.  Yet there are hidden dangers out IN the waters.  To mark these hazards is the lightship's job.

A lightship is, in effect, a floating lighthouse. It goes out into the waters and stands anchored in the midst of the waves, regardless of the relentless, unpredictable nature of storms and surging seas.

A monastery could be compared to a lighthouse standing on a hill; it is a beacon sending out its rays. But those whose call is to live in the midst of the world can be compared to lightships sent out on mission.  We do not have to look far to see darkness, rising tides of sin and secularism, waves of materialism, winds of confusion threatening the world in which we live.  We all have our roles to play in the midst of it, in just the spots where we've been placed.  We have much light to carry, for the storms surge all around and all we have to do is pick up a newspaper to see the truth of this.

We who feel drawn to live in the world while keeping cloister in our hearts have received much light from the warm glow of monastic life.  Ours is the call to live fully for God in the midst of a world that will often question why anyone would want to live this way.  Ours is the call to receive the warm glow of the "monastic fire" (the fire of life lived totally for God) and then to carry that fire into the very environments in which we have been placed - into our families, neighborhoods, work situations.  We have before us the call and the challenge to bring the light and love of Christ into the "sea" of the world, and to hold that light aloft amidst storms and surges.

We must hold the light aloft when the waves of circumstance grow so tall that they seem likely to overwhelm us, when we feel in panic at the swells all around.  We must hold the light aloft in polluted waters, waters filled with the grime of sin and unholy compromise. Ours is the task of standing firm, anchored deep in Christ in the midst of the world.

It is hard to remain firmly anchored in times of storm.  Imagine how it must feel to be on a small ship in powerfully surging seas, when thunder rolls and weighted black clouds seem to come down and envelop the earth.  We do not see land then, nor do we have much hope of it.  We can feel isolated.  We can feel as if we've become one with the clouds, the storms, the sea.

It is our challenge to remember that we are not the sea, nor are we of it.  We are merely in the midst of it.  We are not the fear, the illness, the confusion that surrounds us; we are not the evil that encircles.  We are vessels in which the Light of Christ dwells.

What do we do when storms surround us, leaving us tossed about and frantic?

What do we do when the seas around are calm, and we're tempted to forget all about the light, and we find ourselves drowning in a sea of complacency about things of God?

The answers are there; help is available.  God does not commission His lightships without thoroughly equipping us.  He has provided training manuals:  we've been given Scripture so we can stay on course and in good working order.  We have also been given a marvelous gift in this time in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The One Who has placed us in the seas has given us a wealth of navigational aids.

Most of all, we are kept from floundering by staying in continual contact with the One Who equips and commissions us.  Prayer is our "ship to shore radio," so so speak. Through it, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

His is the Light we carry.  He is the reason we serve.

"Your light must shine before men, so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father."  (Matthew 5:16)