Saturday, July 28, 2012

From This Day Forward

"Take the holy, gentle will of God as your spouse, wedded each moment by the ring of faith in which are set all the jewels of hope and love." (St. Paul of the Cross) 

"Lord, from this day forward, let me see all things through Your will as through a grillwork.  I accept the boundaries of Your holy will as these are revealed in Scripture, in the teachings of the Church, and in the God-ordained circumstances of my life.  Teach me to know Your will that I may love it.  Cause me to love Your will that I may do it. Give me grace to do Your will that I may bring glory to Your Name." (The Cloistered Heart (book), 2008 edition, p. 50, )

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Grille Eyes

You are allowed to laugh.  Or groan.  Or hastily cover this picture of A Girl Wearing Spectacles of Fashionable Red Plaid so you don't have to look at it.  Hey, I never claimed to be good at Photoshop...

But the truth is:  I could use a pair of glasses just like these.  Portable grillwork, through which I'd be reminded to look at everything through the Will of God.  I could then see newspapers, people, television, every sort of situation with God's Will right smack in front of me.

Wouldn't it be handy?  If we had such aids, we would not only see things as God intended, we'd also know how He wanted us to respond. 

While holiness does not come automatically to one living in the physical enclosure, at least a cloistered nun doesn't forget she's in a cloister.  She wakes up every morning surrounded by reminders of where she is.  If her monastery has grillwork in the parlor, every visitor is encountered through it. 

We, however, might say we want to have "cloistered hearts" - and then look at what happens!  We're still in the same environments.  We work in the same offices, cook the same meals, scrub the same sinks.  We see the same people and find no grillwork in front of their faces, so we often forget to relate to them through the will of God.

Life lived for God, in the protection of Scripture and Church teaching, is life lived against the grain.  It can be tough to find the view through the grille, not to mention the fact that such a viewpoint can be, well - about as fashionable as a pair of football shaped plaid specs.

As for me, I intend (by the grace of God) to keep finding ways to remind myself of the grille-view.  How do I do this?  I read Scripture, not just as an academic exercise, but as a manual of how to live. If I wonder about what the Church teaches on a particular matter, I look it up in the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church.

And here comes the hard part.  If I find that I don't agree with something the Church teaches, I am called to change.  I match what I do to what the Church asks of me:  it doesn't work the other way around.

Is it easy to bend my will to Scripture and Church teaching?  No.

Is it popular and hip and "today?"  No.

It can be tough to live "through the grille" when people around have other opinions.  But if I don't try to live according to Scripture and Church teaching, then "the cloistered heart" is nothing more for me than just a nice phrase. 

As I attempt to live as God asks, I could be seen as uncool.  If people knew to do so, some might even taunt me with names like "grille eyes."

But I have been given the right prescription, and I'm grateful to finally be able to see.

(Georges Jakobides painting 1882, in US public domain; glasses digitally altered)


Monday, July 23, 2012

Protection in Which we Can Dwell

Of the many books in my library, there's one small booklet that has endured more wear and tear than most.  That's because this slim volume speaks... no, it sings...  to my life of "enclosure in the will of God."

Because I'm recommending this booklet here, I hope the Sisters offering it will smile upon my liberal use of quotes.  What I'd like to do is propose a little "exercise."  I do this every now and then, with this very booklet, to keep my perspective ...  well, cloistered.

In the analogy of the cloistered heart, the will of God is our enclosure, the "place" where we are called to live.  This is, as we have said many times here, God's call to every human being.  He knows what is best for us.  Thus, he wants us to live within His will when we want to and when we do not.  He asks us to live in His will when we understand it, and when we do not.

We don't have to guess the most elementary boundaries of God's will.  He has clearly mapped out the very basics in Scripture and the teachings of the Church.

What I propose is that we substitute the words "Scripture" and / or "Church teaching" every time we see the words "enclosure" or "cloister" in the quotes below.  After all, the life of one who makes the against-the-grain-choice to live "in the will of God" can be pretty baffling to the world of this age.... 

"Enclosure baffles so many persons.  Even those who love and admire the contemplative life think that the importance of enclosure is exaggerated.  That is why it must be understood, from the beginning.  Love of God alone motivates a girl to remain in the cloister..."

"O most blessed enclosure!  O precious and safe cloister!"

"Whereas some think that we are limited behind walls, we know the walls as simply a beautiful expression of our immersion in Christ our Lord."

"The liberating gift of enclosure leads those who receive it over that threshold which opens upon a life of profound union with God."

"By your solemn vow of enclosure you stand as a stumbling block against all false freedoms."

"Enclosure rings out that God is enough; and that where He is, there is infinite space.  And where He is not, all the space of the world is constraining and restraining and withering and wizening.  In your own life, love must not flicker out for a moment.  By day and by night it must proclaim "Jesus is here.'  The church bell must keep ringing out from your life: 'Blessings on all men!  God is enough! God is enough!  And everything else is not enough...."

The above quotes are from the booklet "Walls Around the World" by Mother Mary Francis PCC.  It is available for $2.50 from Poor Clares of Roswell NM, and you can get to the book page on their website by clicking on this line.  You will see a few pages of text before you actually reach the listing of books, in which you will find this treasure.  There are many other gems there as well.

"O most blessed enclosure scripture! O precious and safe cloister church teaching!"

May we be thankful for the protection in which God invites us to dwell.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Introducing: A Prayer Corner

There's a new blog on our monastery grounds!  A Prayer Corner is just being opened, and hopefully tomorrow (God willing) shall be its official "start up day," when there will be a brief quote or a short Scripture posted.  This is so that those of us who wish to do so can take such thoughts to reflection or prayer. 

“Let your prayer be very simple," wrote St. John Climacus.  "for the tax collector and the prodigal son, just one word was enough to reconcile them with God.” I can have trouble finding even that one word.  The world presses in, disturbing my prayer time, and I wind up crying out for something to arm me against distractions.  So I'm trying out this "corner" to see how it goes.  

For now, there is an introductory post.  In days to come, entries will be much more brief and will consist of prayer.   We'll see how this goes!  May God lead.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wobbling Toward Sainthood

Dreams can be useful things.  They wander through the soul, leaving the merest whispers. I love them for the challenges they offer.  

Daydreams stage little dramas in our minds.  They call us forward into roles for which we begin "trying out," as we consider which dreams to pursue and which to set aside.  As for me, I mentally rehearse for daydreams that make the cut as "keepers," and I start auditioning.

As a child, I rehearsed a lot for the part I most wanted to land as a grownup.  I had lots of props.  Dolls, of course, and pretend kitchen equipment, and dress-up clothes that made me look (I was sure of it) like a glamorous mommy.  I was especially fond of Mother's cast-off high heels, in which I teetered about house and yard at least a full inch taller.  I just knew my feet were growing into the shoes even as I wobbled along.

I look back on those days now not so much as pretending, but more as practice.   I landed my longed-for role as wife and mommy (guess I had a good audition).  I'd been prepared for domesticity by dolls that drank and wet, were diapered in my father's oversized handkerchiefs, and bathed in floating soap that was guaranteed 99 and 44-100s per cent pure.  

As a child, I had role models.  I was surrounded by grownups - ones who had "made it."  Mothers who cared for their little ones and their homes, people who drove and worked and prayed and read.  I observed and imitated, knowing that one day I would "make it" to adulthood myself.  I hoped not only to be ready, but in fact I wanted to begin the grown up life right then and there. 

I'm now long past childhood, but I'm not over the dreaming.  Indeed, I'm growing ever more serious about auditioning.  I am practicing daily for the most important role of my entire eternity.  God wants me to be with Him forever - that is why each one of us was created -  and of course such glorious existence is called sainthood.  So I look carefully at the role models Holy Mother Church has given me. I speak with and imitate (or try to, at least) many of those who have traveled this road before.  I tiptoe in their footsteps and teeter, stumble; trusting (if not seeing) that I'm growing step by wobbly step.  

To be with God forever... it is a high dream, for it is HIS dream.  I pray to have a good audition.  

"We must always have before our eyes the virtues and examples of the saints in order to pattern and form all our actions on them."  (St. Francis de Sales)

"A saint is a man before he is a saint.  Yes, the saints were human as we ourselves are.  They were faced with the same difficulties, and temptations and wrestlings and agonies that confront us, and they dealt with them just as we do, only more bravely, and with a greater constancy and a more steadfast hope.  When we realise this, we feel that, at however great a distance, we still may dare to equate ourselves with them.  Sanctity is a goal to which there is no short cut, a temple to which there is no back entrance.  To it, there is but One Way - His, Who said of Himself, 'I am the Way.'"  (from The Living Pyx of Jesus by a Religious, Pelligrini and Co., Australia, 1941)

(Gerda Tiren painting now in US public domain) 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Weeding the Garden

 you attack
 the roots
 of sin,
 fix your
 thought on
 the God
 you desire
 rather than
 upon the sin
 which you hate."

     - Walter Hilton, The Ladder of Perfection)

(Jules Breton painting, Song of the Lark, in US public domain)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

In the Summer Garden

It is summer, and the cloister garden is in full bloom.  This is a season of constant change, when droughts alternate with downpours, when weeds must continually be battled, when pests need to be put to flight lest they harm delicate blossoms.  

Pastel greens of springtime have deepened, now,  into darker shades.  It's a time of heat and heady fragrance, busy bees and fireflies and cicadas, crackles of thunder and balmy nights. 

I ask myself:  how are things in my own "inner garden?"  Do I see a blossoming of prayer?  Fruit grown in suffering?  Weeds of worldliness and distraction?  The sting of aridity and drought?

"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)

"He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails."  (Isaiah 58:11)

"Our mortifications, humiliations, prayers - in a word, all the exercises we practice - what are they but acts of virtue, which are like so many beautiful flowers, that send up a perfume extremely sweet before the Divine Majesty?"  (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 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. "  (John 15:1-4)

"O garden-dweller!  My friends are listening for your voice, let Me hear it!"  (Song of Songs 8:1)

So... what is happening in the garden of your soul?

(flower photos on today's post are © N Shuman.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Throw Wide the Gate

Let your door stand open to receive Him, unlock your soul to Him, offer Him a welcome in your mind...


Throw wide the gate of your heart,
stand before the sun of the everlasting Light
that shines on every man...

He does not want to force His way in rudely, 
or compel us to admit him against our will….

Our door is faith; if it is strong enough, the whole house is safe.
This is the door by which Christ enters….
It is the soul that has its door, its gates. 

Christ comes to this door and knocks; 
He knocks at these gates. 
Open to him; 
He wants to enter, 
to find His bride waiting and watching…"
                        - St. Ambrose; excerpted from today's Office of Readings

By Degrees

"Accustom yourself
by degrees
to worship Him.
Beg His grace, 
offer Him your heart
from time to time
in the midst of your busyness,
even every moment if you can.
Do not always scrupulously
confine yourself to certain rules,
or particular forms of devotion,
but act with a general confidence
in GOD,
with love and humility."  
                         - Brother Lawrence

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

By Love

"Lord... let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You."  
                                                                                         - John Henry Cardinal Newman

"Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love."  
                                                                                         - St. Therese of Lisieux

"Love has a hem to her garment, that reaches the very dust.  It sweeps the stains from the streets and lanes, and because it can, it must."
                                                                                         - Blessed Mother Teresa

"At the end of our life, we shall be judged by love."  
                                                                                        - St. John of the Cross

Monday, July 9, 2012

Full Truth and Nothing But..

As we look at "contemplative renewal," we do well to remember that all authentic renewal will line up with Scripture and Church teaching.  Anything falling short of this is not truth.  Oh, it may have some elements of truth embedded in it, but anything falling short of full truth is not the God-given contemplative renewal to which we are referring.

I mention this because, as most of us know all too painfully, the world holds forth a lot of "artificial light" at present.  It can be tough, at times, to discern.  For anyone wondering what I mean, I will include a few links at the end of this post.  

And as for me, for years I've engaged in discussions of real vs. artificial "light." The following are excerpts from a few of my letters:

1993:  I think people get into pseudo mysticism because they are literally starved for genuine contact with God.  But there are "systems of mysticism" that do not require God to be God.  They allow us to feel "mystical" without having to be accountable to Another and to surrender to Him unconditionally.  They allow us to do things our way rather than His way, and that is why a key element in the cloistered heart way of life is the acceptance of God's right to be God.  The only door into enclosure of the heart is the doorway of surrender to God.  And this surrender must be to the Person of God, to the Real God Who is revealed to us in Scripture and Church teaching.

1994:  What falls under the heading "new age" promises much without asking much of us.  We are urged to look into self.  We are encouraged to improve self.  We are not asked to die to self.  There is no exhortation to take up one's cross daily and follow Jesus.  And so there is the promise of the supernatural realm without the cost Jesus asks of us:  that of our very lives.  It is why the convenience of artificial light, light which shows the ingenuity of man, can be more appealing than fire that invites one to sacrifice self in the flame.

1995:  The contemplative renewal is about souls that proclaim Jesus Christ as our only Lord.  We do this proclaiming in prayer, in word, in deeds of love and mercy.  We adore the Lord and we "stand in the gap" for those who do not adore Him.  We speak of Truth to those who may not hear it from anyone else.  We stand in the midst of artificial light, carrying our humble flames of God's love and truth and mercy, and we cannot exchange them for anything less no matter how much the less may glitter.  May the renewal of contemplative love and truth and fire springing up here and there throughout the world continue on; may it light a world that does not even know it's steeped in darkness.

May our zeal to carry this flame never be drowned in compromise in all the years to come.. this is our prayer.  To pray for this and to work for it with every fiber of our being - this is our call.


Dangers of New Age Movement  

Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life

Text not in quotes

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Contemplative Renewal

I have long believed there is a kind of contemplative renewal occurring in the Church.  From where I sit, I see an ever growing body of evidence that this is indeed the case.  An increase of Eucharistic adoration... a re-focus on the Hearts of Jesus and Mary... an emphasis on Divine Mercy... interests in contemplative prayer and silent retreats.  So many things make me think this all has been growing, hidden, right in the midst of a world that seems increasingly more confused about the Truth of God.

This has not arrived with the fire and exuberance of some other renewal movements.  It grew in a quieter, more hidden way.  Like contemplative prayer itself, this is "infused."

One cannot make this sort of thing happen here or there or anywhere; one can only be a yes to God and make oneself available.  And one "yes" - one unconditional, unqualified yes to the will of God - can reverberate throughout the whole earth.  I believe we are seeing fruits of some of these yeses, this very day.

Tough times produce tough yeses. These yeses may not be spoken in the midst of great emotion.  They may be uttered in the pain of darkness, or with the sting of aridity, or with the apprehension of knowing that those who stand for the Truth of Christ are often scorned and looked down upon.  This in itself makes the yeses unconditional.

I think the blooms of contemplative renewal are being spotted here, and there... across the earth.  They have been growing hidden, their roots spreading under the soil.  The gentle grace of contemplative renewal does not receive notice from many; only from those who have eyes to see and patience to wait upon God.

It is a struggle to get these words down, for I suspect they sound a bit dramatic.  But in 1995 I made an attempt to speak of this to a priest, a man (now deceased) who traveled the world teaching the Truth of Christ.  He responded:  "you write of a 'contemplative renewal.'  Yes.  We are shoots of a larger growth - of the Spirit - coming up everywhere.  There is hope.  It is He."  

Those looking for fanfare and accolades for their opinions don't pay much attention to little clumps of flowers here and there.  But little clumps of pray-ers, rooted securely in the Church, are the ones God has ALWAYS used to hold the fertile soil of His world together.    

There is indeed hope.  It is He.

Text not in quotes

Illustration: Dendrobium anosmum Blanco, in US public domain due to age

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Monastery

As someone desiring to live as a "cloistered heart," I look at my life as a monastery.  After all, a monastery is a place consecrated to God, a place of prayer, a place where God is loved and served.  I can certainly be all of these things.  I can be a place for God.  

This is more than a nice daydream.  It is simply truth.   

"Even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity.  'If a man loves Me,' says the Lord, 'he will keep My word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.' (John 14:23)"  (Catechism of the Catholic Church #260)

"O my God.... grant my soul peace.  Make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling, and Your place of rest.  May I never abandon You there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to Your creative action."  (St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church # 260)

Looking for a picture to put with this post, I was stopped in my tracks by the one I wound up choosing.  It was not my favorite from among the possibilities, but I could not ignore the Scripture that immediately sprang to mind....

"Anyone who hears My words and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on rock.  When the rainy season set in, the torrents came and the winds blew and buffeted his house.  It did not collapse; it has been solidly set on rock."  (Matthew 7:24-25) 

I look at the painting and envision floodwaters surging all around, washing away vegetation and turning soil into oozing brown rivulets.  I think of waters rising, rising, carrying within them all sorts of trash and polution... yet the house stands firm, for it is built upon a massive rock.

"He alone is my Rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all."  (Psalm 62:2-3)

I pray that we may stand firm and strong upon Our Lord Himself.  As imperfect as we are, He actually desires to live within us.  


"Humility and charity are the two main parts of the spiritual edifice.  One is the lowest and the other the highest, and all the others depend on them.  Hence, we must keep ourselves well founded in these two, because the preservation of the entire edifice depends on the foundation and the roof."  (St. Francis de Sales)

(Andrea Mantegna painting, public domain) 


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Just What IS a Cloistered Heart?

Today I came across one of the earlier papers I wrote on the subject of the Cloistered Heart.  It was put together at the request of a priest, who asked me for something "concise" for sharing with others.  "Concise" was not one of my strong suits.  Therefore, I was grateful to Father Andrew for encouraging me to get the very basics of this down on paper.

With a few minor adaptations, here is what I wrote in the 1990s:

My call is to be in the world but not of the world.   This is not a new or different idea; rather, it is an emphasizing, a kind of "underlining," of every Christian's call.  The uniqueness of this emphasis is in its monastic imagery.  I find it helpful to recognize that within me is a "place" set apart for and consecrated to God.  This place of consecration is sacred and inviolate, for the God of all dwells therein.

The word "cloister" speaks of total consecration.  Those who enter a traditional physical cloister make a tangible break from the world.  Compromise does not fit well in a cloister, nor does lukewarmness, nor does complacency.  The cloistered life is meant to be absolute.  A nun living in a cloister has made a decision to live for God.  She has made a break.

A Christian living in the world is also called to make a decision to live for God, but the break is not so clean.  The world is persistent in its tugs on the heart trying to live for God.  Therefore, we need support in our struggles to surrender our lives to God and to resist the world's allurements.  This is where the imagery of the cloistered heart can be of help.

"It is best not to consider whether or not one is called to the cloister; that is not the point.  If the cloister is in a man's heart, it is immaterial whether the building is actually there.  The cloister in a man's heart means only this:  God and the soul."  (from Warriors of God by Walter Nigg, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 1959, p. 13)

A cloistered heart may be married or single, nurse or engineer or homemaker, yet the heart can be cloistered.  My cloister is not made of bricks and stones, but of God's holy will in which I have chosen to live.  The will of God forms for me a "cloister grille," through which I may view and respond to all people, all circumstances, all things that make up the world in which I live.  My commitment to God does not conflict with family life, but rather enhances and empowers it.

Many years ago, another had this same kind of vision.  St. Jane de Chantal, when she was yet a laywoman (widowed with four chldren), imaged her spiritual world with monastic imagery, and took the Virgin Mary as the Abbess of the cloister of her own heart.

I ask for her intercession and for that of St. Francis de Sales, who encouraged Jane in her monastic imagery.  May they pray for all of us who wish to live in the world as "cloistered hearts."


(painting of Kloster by Eduard von Kallee, US public domain)