Thursday, June 28, 2012

Guarding the Foyer

I know.  I keep using photos of the same grillwork, the same exact foyer! 

It is appropriate to do so, actually, because those living behind a grille look into the same foyer (or "reception room") day after day.  And in the analogy of the cloistered heart, so do I.  I think of the "foyer"as my mind, the place where thoughts wander in and out.

I do not have total control over what thoughts gain access to the parlor.    Even to walk through a mall or glance at a newspaper is to open the doorways of my senses to a multitude of ideas.  However, I do have some influence over what thoughts enter in the first place.  If I go to a movie in which I know there are fear-inducing or lustful scenes, I am giving disturbing thoughts free access to the foyer.  If I listen to gossip, I'm opening my mind to uncharitable judgements.  If I dwell at length on how I have been "wronged," or on how bad I feel today, I am setting myself up for self-pity  My intention may not be to have negative, unloving, self-focused thoughts lingering around - but once these have been admitted, they often set up camp and yammer at me through the grille for days and weeks to come.  These can do much to distract me from God and His will for me.  They can cause my mind to wander into areas where I do not want it to go.  They can, if I don't boot them out, lead me into sin.

Over the years, I've collected a few choice "pieces of grillwork" that help me gain some perspective.... 

"Our thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous, or worthy of praise."  (Philippians 4:8)

"We.. bring every thought into captivity to make it obedient to Christ."  (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)

"Certain attitudes deriving from the mentality of 'this present world' can penetrate our lives if we are not vigilant."  (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2727)

"Close your ears to the whisperings of hell and bravely oppose its onslaughts."  (St. Clare)

"Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God's will, His good, pleasing and perfect will."  (Romans 12:2)

"Disown by a brief and simple act every kind of thought that is contrary to divine love, saying: 'I renounce all thoughts that are not for You, O my God; I disown them and cast them off forever.'  And then when they attack you, you do not have to do anything except to say from time to time: 'O God I have rejected this, You know I have.'" (St. Francis de Sales)

"Temptation gives you a chance to show Me your fidelity."  (Jesus to St. Faustina)


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lord, Here is My Heart

"I want to repose in your heart, because many souls have thrown Me out of their hearts today."  (Jesus to St. Faustina)

Since typing the above words into yesterday's post, I cannot stop thinking about them.  Imagine throwing Jesus Christ, my Lord and King and Savior, out of my heart!  Imagine Him living within me, and my suddenly saying one day: "I don't want You here, there's no room for You in my life anymore... here's the door."

Such a horrible thought.  It's tough for me to even write the words.   Yet, people push Jesus out of their hearts every minute.  Maybe not with full consciousness of what they're doing (although that does happen, of course).  But every time one of us makes a decision to ignore God's serious commands in favor of our own, Christ is being shown the door.  

How great is the mercy of Our Lord, for He persists, He comes back, He knocks and knocks again. 

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)

In spite of His amazing persistence, however, there are some who never open (or re-open) the door.  It is a tragic, sobering thought.  As a "cloistered heart," I take Jesus' desire to find repose in hearts quite seriously.  I pray for the individuals in whose hearts He is longing to dwell.  

Primarily, knowing that He is unwelcome in the hearts of many, I offer Him a place of loving refuge in my own.  

"I want to repose in your heart, because many souls have thrown Me out of their hearts today."  

Lord Jesus, here is my heart.  In it, may You find a refuge of love and praise.

(for our earliest posts about creating a refuge for Jesus in our hearts, click here 
and here)

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Heart in Heart

"I want to repose in your heart, because many souls have thrown Me out of their hearts today."  (Jesus to St. Faustina)

"Make your home and hiding place in the cavern of His open side.."  (St. Catherine of Siena)

"When I return into my heart, I find Thee there, so that I cannot complain that Thou hast left me even for a moment."  (St. Gertrude the Great)

"Come, open unto me the portal of salvation of Thy most beloved Heart.  Beloved, I no longer have my own heart with me, but Thou, O my dearest Treasure, dost keep it with Thee in Thy closed chamber."  (St. Gertrude the Great)

"Our hearts must now certainly be consumed incessantly in this burning furnace of the Sacred Heart of our adorable Jesus!"  (St. Margaret Mary)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Back in the Habit

We have looked, earlier, into the "habit of a cloistered heart."  With this in mind, I was glad to find the following, written by someone who actually wears a habit:

"The lovingness of the Sisters is perceivable to even a casual observer.  But the Sisters are not this way because they wear a habit.  They wear a habit (an outward sign of simplicity and consecration and a reminder of their vows of poverty and chastity) because they are this way....

"When someone shows us deference in some way, we know that is not towards us... No, they honor something else, something greater.  Even those who do not know that we are called “nuns” or that we wear a “habit” know there is something different about us.  They can tell that we are set apart...." (To read the rest of this brief article by a Sister of the Visitation of Holy Mary in Tyringham, Massachusetts,  click here).   

(and for a look back at the habits of a cloistered heart, click here.  And here. )

Pondering Sister's words, I find myself considering ....

Is my lovingness perceivable to observers? 

Am I allowing God to clothe me in habits of virtue that "show?"

"Because you are God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another, forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.  Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect."  (Colossians 3:12-14)  

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Cloister in the Midst

At the risk of having various writers "repeat themselves" (yes, I've quoted some of these before), I'd like to take a minute to recap the essence of heart monasticism as I see it...... 

“I find a heaven in the midst of saucepans and brooms.” (St. Stanislaus Kostka)

"For the humble lay brother (Brother Lawrence), prayer was the consciousness of the continual presence of God.  This realization never left him, whether he was cooking eggs in the kitchen or kneeling in the sanctuary.  In order to be with God, he said, it was not necessary to remain constantly in church; man's heart, too, could be his oratory."  (Walter Nigg, Warriors of God, Alfred A. Knof, 1959, p. 306)  
“Always remember… to retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others.  This mental solitude cannot be violated by the many people who surround you since they are not standing around your heart but only around your body.  Your heart remains alone in the presence of God.” (St. Francis de Sales) 

(painting of Girl Sweeping by William Paxton, 1912.  In US public domain)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Like No Other Parlor

As parlors go, it is certainly unique.  It's a little gathering room, now hammered into place and painted and outfitted, ready for you to come visit if you wish.

Having been glad to hear from some of you during our recent Visiting Day, I've now opened a special (sit down for this one...) "parlor blog."  Surely something unique in the blogosphere!!  I already had a hidden-away blog where I could go now and then to experiment with various "mechanical" aspects of things (a kind of blog tutorial).  So now that is open, with a little link to it on our sidebar here, so you can go leave a comment there should you wish.  I'm putting a link on this post as well.   

This way, the cloistered heart blog can remain a quiet spot.  But those who might want to say hello or leave a comment can pop over and do so now and then.  There is a click-on link, there in "the parlor," that will bring us right back here to this blog.

Unique?  SURE.

But I can't think about that right now.  I'm too busy pouring tea.

If you have a chance, come say hello at The Parlor.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Everyday Through the Grille

Yesterday I received the following from someone who has spent time trying to live "through the grille."  I think this makes such an important point that I asked permission to share it with you.... 

"Some sections of my grille seem to be growing stronger.  These sections are those that deal with world issues, politics, even criticisms and crises in the Church.  It used to be that such issues as these reached through my grille and almost strangled me.  I do not ignore these situations but now I seem to be better able to turn them over to God.  If there is an action to take, I take that action with prayer.  Otherwise, I pray for Gods mercy and then I surrender it to God's will... 

"The area of my grille that seems weakest is the section dealing with the world closest to me, that is, my family.  There is always someone or some situation reaching through my grille.  My grille is worn thin.  Some bars are splintered.  My grille often seems to be stretched and misshapen so that I no longer recognize those little crosses that are supposed to be holding my grille together.  It feels like hands, arms and legs are reaching through the grille tangling with each other while trying to entrap me... 

"The point is: it is easier for me to surrender to God the earth-shaking issues of the world than it is for me to surrender the simple, everyday issues of my family life..."

All I can say to my friend, and to anyone reading this, is:  OH, HOW I IDENTIFY.  I have faced some fierce challenges in my life, and while those have been tough to deal with, I've generally recognized and accepted the graces supplied to meet them.

But let me have an allergy attack?  Car trouble?  A kink in one of my well-ordered plans?  I can be found grumbling and grrring with the worst of them....

May we recognize and accept God's graces to live our everyday lives "through the grille."

"Lifting our hearts up to God is sufficient.  Remembering Him briefly or praising Him even in the midst of battle is very pleasing to God."  (Brother Lawrence)

"Count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial.  Realize that when your faith is tested, this makes for endurance.  Let endurance come to its perfection so that you may be fully mature and lacking in nothing."  (James 1:2-4)

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Mother of our Hearts

"O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee..."

(Virgin and Lamb painting by William Adolphe Bouguereau.  In US public domain)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Half Seeing, We are Seen

"Truly, God's love is seated within the Savior's heart as on a royal throne.  He beholds through the cleft of His pierced side all the hearts of the children of men.  His heart is King of hearts and He keeps His eyes fixed on our hearts.  Just as those who peer through a lattice see clearly while they themselves are only half seen, so too the divine love within that Heart, or rather that Heart of divine love, always clearly sees our hearts and looks on them with eyes of love, while we do not see Him, but only half see Him.  If we could see Him as He is, O God, since we are mortals we would die for love of Him..."  (St. Francis de Sales)

"Now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror; Then we shall see face to face"  (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Practice of Grillwork

I know we seem to spend a lot of time at "the grille."  That's because the thought of a grille (made up of Scripture and Church teaching) is, for me at least, an analogy that truly works.  I have spent over twenty years trying to "see and respond to all persons and circumstances through the will of God," and somehow the mental image of each situation criss-crossed just, well....  helps.   

I have gone so far as to do a bit of cloistered heart crafting.  I've made little cardboard "grilles," cut holes in them, and then written Scriptures on the remaining "bars."  (yes, I need all the help I can get...)

The idea of the grille reminds me that I'm not called to flee from circumstances, hiding myself  behind high walls.  Life with its joys and challenges IS going to come to me, ringing for my attention.  Part of living within the will of God is meeting life daily, face-to-face.

And so I practice "finding the view through the grille." Like one learning to play piano, I take it note by note, chord by chord, and I practice.  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  I hit sour notes, try again, do a little better, learn Row Row Row Your Boat, mess up a chord, feel discouraged, think I will NEVER get this, and somehow try again and again and again.

I know I've probably used these exact scriptures before (I do have my favorite bars of the girlle), but for me it goes something like this....

Maybe I don't feel so good.. I'm facing a physical problem.  Not an easy thing, but I am helped by dealing with it through the grille.  "I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us."  (Romans 8:18).  "God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His decree."  (Romans 8:28)

Maybe I just learned someone has gossiped about me.  Laughed at me behind my back, called me a name, said I was a goody two-shoes.  Why I'll show HER!  I'll tell the neighbors about the time she and that guy went to (do I hear a sour note?... oh, it won't hurt to ignore it just this once...) the park together ummm and then (a bar of the grille seems to pop up in my mind)..... "Do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you."  (Luke 6:27)...

That one was almost an oops, but by the grace of God I pulled out of it, because I've been practicing for years and years.  I pray for the person, keep my mouth shut, and it's as if I hear echoes of "Row Row Row Your Boat" sung by a great chorus of golden voiced witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), who've been watching my recital from the balcony, unseen.

What about you?   Are there particular scriptures that help you, challenge you, enourage and srengthen you in various situations?

There are so many things we each face, daily. How I thank God that He has given us Scripture and Church teaching to form the "bars of our grille!"


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Caused by Love Alone

'You must receive through love that which Love alone caused to be given to you.
  No, you cannot consider our Savior in an action more full of love 
or more tender than this.  In it He abases Himself, if we may so express it,
 and changes Himself into food, so that He may penetrate our souls 
and unite Himself most intimately to the heart and to the body of His faithful.'
  (St. Francis de Sales)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Facing "a culture ungrilled"

Monastery grilles are normally set into walls, so there is essentially "no getting around them."  The grille in this photo would have been in such a situation in its original state.  As it is now, however, it's on public display to illustrate how the set-up once worked. 

As persons who live in the world, we are not enclosed by physical walls and grilles.  If we want to respond to all things "through the grillwork of the will of God," we must make a conscious effort to "see" that grille before us.  Such seeing does not come automatically, and the culture we live in doesn't help us.  In fact, if we really pay attention to what God says about (insert topic here), we are likely to find a real conflict between God's revealed will and what we're told by the world around.  Scripture and Church teaching are clear on how to think according to the basics of God's will, but how often would we rather ignore the clarity?  We can find it quite easy to succumb to the murkiness of what is most commonly thought, tolerated, said, believed, done...

It is not difficult to find God's "mind" on a particular subject.  We have Scripture, and we've been given the marvelous tool of the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church.  There is not much that can't be found therein, and there we can find the basic "bars of the grille."

I love the photo on this post (for which I thank my friend CW) because I feel it shows my exact situation.  I have chosen to view and respond to life through the will of God.  However, I can move away at any time. I can simply get up, or even lean just a little, and I'm suddenly seeing life "un-grilled and raw."  Thankfully I don't have to stay ungrilled - Jesus is always waiting to help me get back to where I belong.

We live in the midst of an "ungrilled" culture.  With one click of a TV button or computer mouse, we come face to face with life as it was not intended, by God, to be.  Again:  we will look more at these things in days to come (and on a more personal basis).  But I will leave us, today, with one example.  I opened Scripture just a moment ago, and my eyes fell upon the 18th chapter of Luke.  Reading this, I wondered.....

If I were to check in on a few TV programs tonight, or go to a movie, or read a newspaper, or look up the voting records of various politicians and leaders, how many examples might I find of "a culture ungrilled?" 

"You shall not commit adultery.   You shall not kill.  You shall not bear dishonest witness.  Honor your father and your mother."  (Luke 18:20)

And that, of course, is just the beginning.  May we have grace to remain behind the "grille" of Our Lord's merciful Heart of love.

(photo on this post was taken at the Carmel of Port Tobacco in La Plata, Maryland, site of the first Carmelite monastery in the USA) 


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Back to Basics

Someone once asked what the difference was between the "call" of a cloistered heart (to live in the will of God) and that of any other Christian.  I responded that there is no difference whatsoever.  The cloistered heart analogy is just one way of envisioning it.

We are all called to live according to the will of God.  Our Creator placed us on this earth and gave us instructions on how to live (Genesis 2:16-17).  It was pretty simple, really, and absolutely do-able.  God said, in essence: here is all you will ever need.  A splendid bounty.  You don't even have to work for it.  All I ask is that you trust Me, trust that I know what's best for you, and just do not eat of that one single solitary tree. 


All these millenia later, we still face the same basic choice.  Because of that first ooops, we were not born into Eden - but thanks to Our Savior, we do have an eternal garden of glory awaiting us. And the way I look at it, we also have an opportunity to live ... even on earth... in the best location possible.  A place from which we can look with anticipation toward our eternal Home.  A place in which we can be assured that God is ordering our circumstances (even when we see them as painful or murky) toward nothing but good.

Of course, I'm speaking of the will of God, the boundaries of which are mapped out for us in His Word and through His Church.  And yes, this is very basic stuff.  But oh, how easy it is to lose sight of the basics!  Which is why I'm grateful for the imagery of enclosure, and of grillwork, because these help me as I try to practice the basics day by day.

In circumstance after circumstance, we are presented with the question:  "Did God really say?"  It threads through our culture, often as a general assumption that He said no such things.  "In this enlightened, scientific, sophisticated age, do you mean to tell me you think all that stuff in the Bible is really true?!  You think God really said?  Why don't you just open your eyes and judge for yourself!!!"

"The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom..."  (Genesis 3:6)

Yes, it's all very basic.  Next time, I hope to share more about how the analogy of "grillwork" helps me practice seeing (and obeying) God's most basic call.


Just Having a Look....

I am enclosed within the will of God.  It is a sweet thought, isn't it?  I have chosen to live within the boundaries of God's will as these have already been built for me, to protect me.  God has given Scripture and Church teaching to show me the boundaries...  to fence me in, so to speak.  If I remain within this enclosure, I am safe from spiritual harm. 

But oh, the world outside God's will can look so appealing.  Those who live out there, "free" of the constraints imposed by the "thou shalts" and the "thou shalt nots"... well, they appear to be pretty happy.  They're choosing their own paths without regard to God, and sometimes making sport of those who try to live according to Church teaching.  They're telling bawdy stories, drinking to excess, and engaging in behavior that the Bible and the Church clearly assure us is wrong.  This is the way the world is today, we're often told... don't be a killjoy!  Keep up with the times! 

If I'm not tempted to join in these more obvious out-of-enclosure-frolics, I may have other temptations.  To gossip, perhaps; to be unkind, speak harshly, be slothful, give in to anger, be self-focused... and on and on.  The world outside God's will can at times look awfully appealing.  And after all, I'm not sealed up in a cage  There's no lock on my enclosure wall....

Day by day, I have a choice to make.  A choice not just to enter "the enclosure of God's will" once and for all - but to remain within it.  In one circumstance, and another, and in the one that catches me quite off guard. Whether or not I actually venture outside my enclosure, I do find myself sitting (all too often) on the fence.  I find that the only hopes for me, in this, are prayer, reliance upon God's grace - and some actual practicing. 

Over the next few days, I hope to provide a few illustrations of what I mean by this. 

"Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God's will, what is good, pleasing and perfect."  (Romans 12:2)

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Friday, June 1, 2012


We are back at the scene of the Visitation.  The moment Mary's greeting had been spoken, the babe within Elizabeth leaped for joy.  Immediately, Mary burst forth with the glorious words of her Magnificat:  

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exalts in God my Savior, for He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness; all ages to come shall call me blessed.  God Who is mighty has done great things for me, holy is His Name..." (Luke 1:46-49)

Was this the only time Mary burst forth with praise of God?  Of course not.  Her later words of exaltation do not have to be recorded for us to know for certain that she spoke them.  She who was sinless, holy, utterly dedicated to God, and living with Jesus within the very walls of her home... how could it be possible for her not to have uttered countless 'magnificats?'   

When Jesus took His first steps, Mary was watching.  When He spoke His first words, when He lay sleeping in her arms - can we imagine the praise within her?  As Mary prayed in the temple, cared for her home, prepared meals for her little family, surely she worshiped through it all.

In my daily life, sometimes I reflect upon Mary's magnificats.  Going on my little 'visitations' to those around me, I try to remember that in the midst of her Visitation, Mary gave thanks.  

I, too, am called by God to proclaim His greatness, sometimes within hearing of those around me, sometimes in the quiet of my heart.  The mighty things God has done for me are quite different from what He did for Mary... but He has done some great things nonetheless.  

In joyous moments, do I remember to exalt Him?  When I have an opportunity, do I proclaim the greatness of the Lord?  And what about the sad times - what then.  I have no doubt that even in the worst moments, Mary's heart could (and did) cry "holy is His Name."  When such times come to my life, I have a Mother who can assist me.  I think she can help me find the will to praise.

When Jesus took His last steps, Mary was watching.  When He spoke His last words, Mary heard them.   "John, behold your mother.  Father forgive them.  It is finished."  She was there when He was taken from the Cross.

Scripture gives us no record of what Mary said when Jesus was placed in her arms that last time.  We can only imagine.  We do know her heart, her tender, motherly heart, was pierced and broken.  Whether she uttered actual words...  we do not know that.  But we do know the attitude of Mary, and we know that her decision to trust and to praise would have been there, even then.  

In my imagination, I can almost hear it....

 My soul
 the greatness 
 of the Lord;
 my spirit exalts
 in God my Savior...
 God Who is mighty
 has done
 great things 
 for me.

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