Monday, December 30, 2013

Full of Eternity

'Time is full of eternity.  
As we use it, 
so shall we be. 
Every day 
has its opportunities, 
every hour
its offer of grace.'

Cardinal Henry Manning, 1883

Painting: Jaroslav Spillar Familie aus dem Chodenland, 1900, detail

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Happiest Birth

'The birth of the Lord gives rise 
to a thousand thoughts and reflections in our hearts!  
Never could there have been a poorer or happier birth, 
nor at the same time a more radiant and happy mother!'  

St. Francis de Sales

Painting:  Edward Burne-Jones, Nativity

Thursday, December 26, 2013

On the Feast of Stephen

Thanks to good King Wenceslas, I always remember the Feast of Stephen.  I like to think I'd do so anyway, for Stephen is one of my favorite saints.  I see him as a perfect patron for those of us who strive to view life "through the grille."

Reading Acts 6 and 7, I find a number of things to love about Stephen.  He was deeply spiritual and prudent, he spoke with wisdom, and he was called to humbly serve by waiting tables.  When he was falsely accused, his face "seemed like that of an angel."  He fearlessly spoke the truth of God, and those who listened were stung to the heart (Acts 7:54).

And then, as we know, they stoned him.

What does this have to do with living as a cloistered heart?  I would say:  pretty much everything.

Stephen was willing to humbly serve by waiting on tables.  At the same time, he fed spiritually, freely sharing the truth of Christ.

And if anyone ever "viewed and responded to circumstances 'through the grille,'" it was Stephen.  Even as his persecutors were grinding their teeth at him, he boldly exclaimed "'Look!... I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God's right hand."

I am sure this acute view of reality buffered the saint's agony as stones were hurled at him.  "As he was being stoned, he could be heard praying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'  He fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'"  (Acts 7:54, 59, 60)

What a way to meet one's Maker. 

I have never had stones thrown at me - not physically.  But smirks and snubs for living and speaking the truth of God?  O course.  This has probably happened to all of us.  Even Jesus told us to expect nothing less.  "You will be hated by all on account of Me."  (Matthew 10:22)

When I feel the sting of tiny pebbles, from neighbors or relatives or associates of any kind, I hope to think of Stephen.  I hope to remember to ask his intercession.

May he help us find the view through the grille. 

Painting:  Bernardo Cavallino, Martyrdom of St Stephen

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This is an edited post from our 2012 archives


Monday, December 23, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christ is Near

a herald voice is calling;
'Christ is near,' 
it seems to say; 
'Cast away the dreams 
of darkness,
O ye children of the day.'"

(Roman Breviary Hymn, 5th century)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Glorious Interruption

This time of year can bring both blessing and hassle.  Holy meditations, carols, the contagious wonder of wide-eyed children...  these unwrap great blessings and usually great fun. 

For some of us, however, the activities of Christmas can feel like an intrusion.  Day to day life is more or less put on hold by an urgent need to shop and wrap and plan.  Chairs and tables are displaced by, of all things, a tree in the middle of our houseThere is no time to do ordinary things, as everyday life is seriously disrupted for weeks on end.  It can seem like a major interruption.

A few years ago, the truth of it hit me.  This is what Christmas has been since the instant of the Incarnation: an interruption.  Please stay with me here, because our first reaction to the word “interruption” could be negative.  But interruptions are often quite positive, and this Interruption was the most positive of them all.

Think of it.  Mary was living a quiet, hidden life.   She was betrothed.   Then one day an angel appeared to her, and with that Holy Interruption Mary’s life was changed forever.  As was Joseph’s, as was yours, as was mine. 

As we know, there was a Birth.  There were shepherds tending their flocks, and again an angel appeared.  A night of sheep-watching was interrupted.  

While most of the world went on unaware, a few men in the east noticed something out of the ordinary.  A sign in the sky.  Something signaling, to them, a wondrous Interruption – one so marvelous that they must drop any other plans they had and go in haste, and they must bring gifts.  These men were wise enough to know that somehow the world had changed, maybe even that the course of life on earth had been altered. 

The change was so shattering that mankind took notice.  Calendars would later mark the divide.  

God Himself had split the heavens.  

We now measure time by the before and after of that Grand Interruption, in effect saying that yes, we see.  We may not understand, really, but we recognize the wonder and the mystery of it.  God interrupted the cycle of sin and death by breaking into our world (John 3:16).  Jesus broke into the flesh of man, shattering hopelessness with His power and mercy. 

With Jesus' arrival in the flesh, God interrupted our misery.  He opened to us the path to salvation.  

When I feel stressed by Christmas interruptions, I try to remember what I'm celebrating.  Death was interrupted by Life.  Despair was interrupted by Hope. 

With His glorious interruption, God tore through the fabric of time.    

This is a slightly edited version of a post from our archives



Paintings:  Frederic James Shields, Annunciation
                Blake, Ancient of Days

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dry Because...

'My spirit has 
become dry 
it forgets 
to feed 
on You.'

St. John of the Cross

Painting:  Zurbarán, St John of the Cross

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Morning Offering

              'Lord, I offer and consecrate to You this morning all that I am and have:
              my senses,
              my thoughts,
              my affections,
              my desires,
              my pleasures,
              my inclinations,
              my liberty.
              In a word,
              I place my whole body and soul in Your hands.'

              St. Alphonsus de Ligori
              Painting:  Orazio Borgianni, St Carlo Borromeo

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Thursday, December 12, 2013


One word we hear at this time of year is "joy."  It sings to us from carols, calls to us from cards, marches across banners in the mall. 

I've heard it said that JOY is found by putting your focus and priorities in the proper order:

J   esus  
O  thers 
Y  ourself  

Is this "priority of focus" how St. Paul could write, in the face of persecutions, "I am filled with consolation, and despite my many afflictions my joy knows no bounds." (2 Corinthians 7:4)..?

Is this "priority of focus" what enabled some of the Church's greatest saints to endure adversities with joy? 

I pray that we may we all burst forth with "the joy of right priorities" at this holy time of year. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always!  I say it again: rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)  

This was originally posted on The Breadbox Letters

Painting:  Otto Scholderer Großes Stilleben mit junger Frau

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Monday, December 9, 2013

My Soul a Tabernacle

'Dearest Jesus, 
work another miracle, 
a prodigy of grace.  
Make my soul 
a beautiful, 
where You will 
ever dwell.  
Let me never 
leave You alone, 
but remind me 
to return 
hundreds of times 
in the day 
and have 
a word 
with You.'

(from Fervorinos From Galilee's Hills,
compiled by a Religious, Pelligrini, Australia, 
1936, p. 194)

Painting:  Edward Burne Jones, 1886

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Lesson of the Lights

Advent is one week old, and already Christmas decorations surround us.  In Church we watch quietly, our spirits hushed, as light dawns slowly with the softness of sunrise.

It is quite a different story out here... in the glittering, clashing, clattering clamor of the world.

I once spoke about this to my friend RG.  So much hubbub, and so soon!  Carols blaring, shoppers rushing... and so many lights.

My friend looked at me with a wisdom born (I suspect) of having lived 25 years longer than I. "Did you ever think," he asked gently, "that every one of those lights is because Jesus came to us?"

Well, yeah, I said.  "But not everyone putting lights on their houses is doing it specifically to honor Jesus."  I was being very logical.  "Some may not even believe in Him." 

"Whether they believe in Him or not," said RG, "they would not be putting up lights right now if Jesus had not come to the world." 

There would be no Christmas, no decorations, no special songs, no shoppers and gifters, no strings of lights on trees and houses, if Jesus had not come.

RG went on to say that when he saw Christmas lights, he thanked Jesus for coming to us.  I'm sure he seldom forgot this practice, for he was a man of prayer.  This holy man has now gone Home to God; he needs no more reminders.  I, meanwhile, think every Christmas of his simple wisdom. 

"This would not be here if Jesus had not come."  The decorations, the cards, the lights - all shine forth the news that Something Really Important happened on this earth over 2000 years ago.

Something Important Happened, and we have not forgotten.

Thanks be to God for the lesson of the lights. 

This is an edited repost from the Breadbox Letters archives, 2011

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Friday, December 6, 2013

The Cloistered Heart, Illustrated

The Advent window continues to open.  With every Christmas program, cookie-swap, even (yes!) trip to the mall, there are opportunities to hear and to proclaim (maybe through a card sent or a "merry Christmas" spoken) the message that Jesus has come.

I first posted this video last Advent.  As I ponder it anew, I realize more than ever how accurately it portrays the witness of a cloistered heart.  Oh - I don't mean that we should go through malls preaching and singing.  But what if we did our shopping with songs of praise in our hearts?   Not just at this time of year, but as often as we can remember to do so?

Our inner voices of prayer do, I believe, have an effect on things around us.  How could they not?

I continue to see this video as a marvelous illustration of what cloistered hearts can be, in various ways, in the hustle and bustle and distraction and clamor and craziness of the world.  So I ask it again this year.... 

Can we be cloistered here?

Painting at the top of this post is The Shop Girl by James Tissot

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Monday, December 2, 2013

The Advent Window, Revisited

Recently, I've seen online discussions about whether or not Christmas should be celebrated before the 25th.  In the Church, it's time for hearts to wait in hushed anticipation. In the world, however, things are not that way. We can barely walk out our doors without feeling "the attack of the glitz."

Last year, I wrote a post about a special - actually, THE MOST special - Advent in my life. I wasn't attending Church regularly in that long-ago Advent.  I was twenty years old and in what I've called my "I don't bother God and He doesn't bother me" phase. If pressed, I might have said I believed in God.  Probably.  Maybe.  The truth was:  I just didn't care.

That started changing as the world began its pre-Christmas celebrations in early December.  I wasn't talking to the Lord then, but it seems He used the clamor of the season as an opportunity to talk to me.

It was a month of non-stop reminders of the Reason for the season.  I almost couldn't get away from them.  Switching on a radio, I would catch an old familiar carol, one I'd heard every Christmas since childhood.  This time, however, the words sounded... different.

Sales clerks wished me merry Christmas.  A nativity scene was, as always, featured on the Court House steps, and that year I stopped more than once to notice.

As it turned out, that Advent was a pivotal time.  After doing a few things that I was at a loss to understand (choosing Christmas cards with Baby Jesus on them, taking notice of a song about Christ the Savior), I returned to Mass.  I thought more about God, and began to stammer out a few prayers.  Soon I was involved in a Catholic student center, where I would meet the wonderful young man I'd marry.. and the rest, as they say, is our history.

There are many people, right now, who are just as I was that Advent.  They may not spend much (if any) time in Church.  They might not be interested at all in God, but they're probably interested in Christmas.  They trim trees, string lights, watch Christmas movies, gather at parties, sing carols.  And in between "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "I'll Have a Blue ooh-ooh Christmas," they just might sing a few verses of "Silent Night."

It seems to me that in our secular, we're-doing-fine-by-ourselves world, there appears in this season an amazing and unique window of opportunity.

A slot.

A crack in the Everyday.

An opening through which the call of God might be heard through carol or card.   

In recent years, we have seen that crack narrow.  The Court House steps of my youth haven't seen a nativity display in years.  Store clerks wish me "happy holidays" at best. But even now, somewhere between shoppers lined up for black Friday and the queues awaiting after-Christmas sales, there is still a window of opportunity.  A time when someone rushing through a store might catch the strains of an old familiar carol, one she's heard every Christmas since childhood.   Yet this time, the words sound.... different.  She remembers pictures of a babe in a manger, and some part of her seems to thaw....

This is a season when we can acknowledge (like at no other time) the One Who was born for us. After all, friends will not be likely to toss out cards that happen to have nativity scenes on them.  Neighbors visiting our home won't be offended by the words of "The First Noel." It's all just part of the season, part of the holidays, part of the fun.

The Church will begin Christmas music and celebrations on the 25th, but out here in the world, the window is now wide open.

This is when scenes and songs normally found only in Church can spill out into the world.

And who knows?  Someone years from now might look back on a card I sent her this season, or remember the nativity scene she saw in my home, and recall this very year as her own special Advent. 

For now, for just these few short weeks, the window is open.

We have no idea who might be looking through it.

I pray that they may catch a glimpse of Christ.


top: Franz Skarbina Unter dem Weihnachtsbaum (digitally altered)
bottom: Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Young Peasant Woman with Three Children at the Window

Friday, November 29, 2013

Aspiration Practice

It is almost Advent.  Time to slow down, settle in for hours of prayer, and wait in hushed anticipation. 

What?  It isn't that way in your world?

It isn't that way in mine, either.

Which makes it an ideal time for aspirations:  those brief prayers that we can lift to God inwardly, wherever we are and whatever we may be doing.  They are an ancient monastic practice, but they can be particularly practical for those of us striving to keep our hearts fixed on God in the midst of a bustling world.  Even as we join crowds of shoppers in the mall, wrap gifts, gather with friends and family, we can lift our hearts to God.  I find the doing of this hard to remember, but it seems the more I practice, the more it becomes habitual.

We are entering the busiest time of the year out here in the world.  If we can remember to offer little prayers even in this kind of hubbub, maybe doing so while we fold laundry on a quiet February morning won't turn out to be so tough. 

Aspiration practice.  I think I'm ready.  Let it begin. 

"These brief ascents of the soul heavenward, these liftings of the mind and heart to God, briefly but frequently: this is what enables the monk… to live a life of prayer and intimate union with God.  As (he) goes about his daily duties, he… gives himself to this practice of terse but frequent prayer.” (Wilfrid Tunink OSB, Vision of Peace, pp. 277-278) 

'My God and my all!'

'Jesus, I trust in You.'

'Lord, have mercy on us.'

'My God, I adore You.' 

'Lord, enclose me in Your Heart.'

Bérard Gloppe painting; in US public domain due to age 

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Trouble with Truth

'People hate the truth 
for the sake of 
whatever it is 
they love 
more than the truth. 

'They love truth when 
it shines warmly 
on them, and hate it 
when it rebukes them.'  

St. Augustine

Painting: Jan Lievens, Young Man in a Yellow Robe 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I Re-Choose the Wall

What follows is an edited re-post from our archives.  I find I need to be reminded of this, and often.  Day by day, in circumstance after circumstance, I am called to re-choose the wall. 

Living within the will of God, making a specific choice to do so, can be a pleasant thing to talk about.  It's nice to write of, good to meditate upon, and the idea fits well in the pages of a cloistered heart blog.

It's just a bit different when it comes to the doing of it.  Oh, it's not so bad when God's will and mine are precisely the same.  But at some point(s), my will and God's are going to conflict.  

What happens then?   

I look around at the "walls" of God's will, at the boundaries in which I am "enclosed" if I genuinely want to live for Him.  I consider what the Church teaches on particular subjects.  I delve into Scripture.  Wow - there are some tough things to live up to in Scripture!  Pray for my persecutors?  Love my neighbor as myself?   Do not judge?!

Sometimes I find myself picking and choosing, wanting to wander outside the walls.  I can live this commandment, but I'm having some trouble with that other one.   I'll go right along with this chapter in the Catechism, but surely I'm not expected to take that one seriously.  I mean... c'mon!   Who does?
If I intend to live cloistered in heart, then I "does."  I don't just go grabbing stones out of my enclosure wall.  For if I do, it won't be long before that wall - that high, beloved wall built by Our Lord Himself to protect me - comes swiftly tumbling down.   And I am left unprotected, unshielded, vulnerable to attacks on my life, my spirit, my immortal soul.  

God's will and mine are going to conflict.  At various points, this will happen.  In order for me to choose God's will for Him and not just for my own self-interest, this HAS to happen. 
After all, if God's will and mine are always the same, however can I make a truly free choice for His?  


Painting:  Gustave Caillebotte, The Kitchen Garden

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Happy are They Who....

'is inspired;
light and power
go out from it
to enlighten and strengthen
souls that are upright and sincere.
Happy are they who
meditate on it every day.
They drink at the very
well-spring of Living Waters.
We can never find a more
fruitful source of meditation
than the words of the
Divine Word Himself,
as recorded in the Gospels,
lending themselves as they do
with equal ease to
the first lispings
of the soul beginning to see God
and to the enraptured outpourings
of the soul that has found Him.'

(from Fervorinos From Galilee's Hills, 
compiled by a Religious, Pelligrini, Australia, 1936, p. 24)

John William Waterhouse painting

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Do Not Neglect Him

'Do remember what I have advised you:
that is, to think often of God,
by day, by night,
whatever you are doing,
in your duties,
even in your amusements.
He is always near you and with you.
Do not neglect Him.
You would think it rude to leave a friend,
who came to visit you, alone;
why then leave God alone?
Do not then forget Him,
think about Him often -
to do so is the proper business of a Christian:
if we do not know our calling
we must learn it.'

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Blog Post Slipped under the Door

I like to imagine that, were he living in our age, St. Francis de Sales would be a blogger.  After reading the following on Catholic Online, I suspect my idea may not be all that far-fetched.... 

"Francis' unusual patience kept him working.  No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door.  So Francis found a way to get under the door.  He wrote out his sermons, copied them by hand, and slipped them under the doors.  This is the first record we have of religious tracts being used to communicate with people." 

With this in mind, I would like to invite everyone here on yet another field trip.   Catholic Spirituality Blogs Network has twenty blog posts in the running for the first-ever Frankie Award, which will be awarded in honor of - guess who......!

Yes!  St. Francis de Sales.

I have a post among the nominees, that being "Go Through the Motions," from my other blog The Breadbox Letters.  We can click here to go visit the various posts, allow God to touch our hearts through them, and vote for one if we wish to do so.

It is primarily because of his tracts, copied tirelessly by hand and slipped under doors, that Francis de Sales has been named patron of Catholic journalists.  I cannot imagine a more appropriate saint for bloggers.

May he pray for all who slip faithful, God-honoring, blog posts through today's cyber-doors.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Let's Go!

Is anyone here interested in contemplative prayer?  (yes, I'm smiling)

Then let's leave here and go there, to the most recent post of the Passionist Nuns at In the Shadow of His Wings, where we will find wisdom like this.....

"In its essence, the prayer of contemplation is not about deep thinking or concentration. It is about profound and all-absorbing contact with God Himself....." Sister Rose Marie CP

Why are we still here?  Let's go!

Painting:  Charles Allston Collins, Convent Thoughts

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why We Are In This World

'It is God's will we are fulfilling, 
and this is precisely why we should hasten to do it,
for we are in this world for no other purpose.... 
How can we go on saying that we belong to Him 
if we are not prepared to make our will fit in with His?'

St. Francis de Sales

Painting:  Rogier van de Weyden, Descent from the Cross (detail: Mary Magdalene) 

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

What a Wonderful Battle

'O my soul, what a wonderful battle you have waged in this pain, and how literally true is what happens here!  Since my Beloved is for me and I for my Beloved, who will be able to separate and extinguish two fires so enkindled?  It would amount to laboring in vain, for the two fires have become one.'

St. Teresa of Avila

Painting:  Edward Burne-Jones 

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bullied by Pain

I had forgotten the pain of a migraine.  Not having endured this particular trial for a number of years, I was surprised to be blindsided by one on Sunday.  Oh my, thought I, no wonder these miserable things send people crawling to their beds!  When the headache came back the next day, and with more force, I felt helpless and "bullied" by pain.  The prayer and writing and projects I'd planned for myself were all abandoned, and all I could do was sit very, very still and hand myself over to God. 

I didn't like this situation; I would not have chosen it.  But it presented an opportunity.  I could decide to offer the pain itself as prayer.  I thought about the crown of thorns pressing into the head of Jesus.  I thought of babies being torn from wombs, and of what happens to their tiny skulls during such procedures.  I thought of the unspeakable agony now being suffered by people in the Philippines.  I could offer the hammering in my head as prayer of intercession.

"When I began to make the Holy Hour," wrote St. Faustina, "my physical sufferings intensified, so that I was not able to pray... Jesus said to me 'My daughter, know that if I allow you to feel and have a more profound knowledge of My sufferings, that is a grace from Me.  But when your mind is dimmed and your sufferings are great, it is then that you take an active part in my Passion, and I am conforming you more fully to Myself.  It is your task to submit yourself to My will at such times, more than at others.."  (Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Stockbridge, 1996, p. 600)

I write this with a hint of pain again brewing.  I sincerely hope it remains no more than a "hint."  But if things unfold in a different direction, I pray to submit myself fully to the will of God.  I pray to be up to the task. 

Painting:  Richard E. Miller, Reverie, 1915

Monday, November 11, 2013

Refiners of the World

'When once Christ is given full sway in the soul, there is no limit to the means He will take to transform and sanctify it.  God's mystical Gift of Himself to such a soul, His mystical Indwelling in it, is effected in such a way that God, Who is omnipresent, manifests Himself to the faithful soul with an ever-clearly and more penetrating spiritual presence.  God and this soul have more and more frequent converse with each other, and together live the supernatural life in greater and greater fullness.

'In the end, the chosen soul no longer lives on earth, save for the purpose of sharing with the Holy Trinity that supernatural life which God, as the Absolute Ruler, wishes to live in the soul here below.  It lives its life with Christ.... Souls such as this become the refiners of the world, for the fire of their charity burns away much dross, and imparts warmth to the cold of heart.

'Never shall we know in this life how far the influence of our humble acts of kindness reaches beyond the margin of our own narrow sphere....

'Hidden, lowly souls in the cloister, the hospital ward, the classroom, the home and the factory, are winning many a battle on fields they never tread.  When God bestows His rewards for missionary service we shall see some of the most glorious crowns going to those who, like the consumptive young nun of Lisieux, were missionaries by prayer and loving self-denial....

'Let us, then, not let slip the golden opportunities that Our Lord puts into our path each day.'

 (from Fervorinos From Galilee's Hills, compiled by a Religious, Pelligrini, Australia, 1936, pp. 116-119)

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Watch Over Us As We Sleep

'As I retire, I close the day in my choir stall.  "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."  (From Liturgy of the Hours, Night Prayer).'

As darkness falls about the monastery, nuns (or monks, as the case may be) gather to chant the Office of Night Prayer.  When I've been on retreat, I have found this to be my favorite prayer of the day.  It is much the same from night to night, it has repetition as in a gentle lullaby, and it ends with a Marian hymn.  At the end of this Office, inhabitants of the monastery retire to their cells in silence.

Many of us cannot bring this exact nighttime ritual into our homes, nor are we called to do so.  But we can end the day with prayer.  Even if we do so in the silence of our hearts as the family settles down around us (or when they don't, and every parent knows the kind of night of which I speak!), we can end our day with an act of thanksgiving to God. 

If I am able, I sometimes supplement Night Prayer by going to the Prie Dieu blog and taking a few minutes to examine my conscience, listen to a nighttime hymn, or sing along with the Salve Regina.

However I may do so, I want to remember to close my day by giving thanks to God.   

'O God, with Whom there is no darkness, keep and defend us and all Your children, we beseech You, throughout the coming night.  Renew our hearts with Your forgiveness and our bodies with untroubled sleep, that we may wake to use more faithfully your gift of life.  Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.  Amen.'

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Opportunity Rings

"As I begin various activities, I can enter the choir stall by offering my actions to God and imploring His aid.  'O you who fear the Lord, praise Him in the places where you are now.  Change of place does not affect any drawing nearer to God, but wherever you may be, God will come to you.' (Gregory of Nyssa)."

Reading the above quote, I ask myself:  "where can God come to me?"

The answer:  wherever I may be.

If I praise Him in the place where I am now, says St. Gregory, God WILL come to me.  I can draw nearer to Him.  Which means that right here, as I sit plunking away at a keyboard, I can draw near to God.  Looking out my window onto a golden autumn day, watching fallen leaves blow across the grass, gazing at a sky of purest blue, I can offer prayer.  I can praise God as much and as "thoroughly" as if I were sitting in a choir stall.  

And when I get up from my chair, I can continue offering my actions and my prayer.  Mine is a "choir stall" that can go with me to kitchen, car, dentist's office, mall. 

"Opportunities are offered hourly for us to perform with great love seemingly unimportant works.  Gentleness and patience toward others, overcoming our own moods and inclinations, acknowledging within ourselves our own imperfections, and persevering effort to keep ourselves tranquil and at peace:  this faithfulness is greater than we can imagine." (from In the Midst of the World by Sister Joanne Marie Wenzel VHM, Brooklyn Visitation Monastery, 1985, p. 9)

I think I hear, from another part of my house, opportunity knocking.  Like a monastery bell, it calls out to me.  There are desks to be straightened, letters to sort, there's a kitchen in need of help.  Change of place does not affect my drawing nearer to God.

So I shall pick up my choir stall and go scrub a sink.  

Painting: Girl Sweeping, William McGregor Paxton,1912  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Litany of Attentions

I have not forgotten the choir stall.  If I'm to walk through this world "cloistered in heart," I cannot forget it.  My heart must continue to be a place of prayer.

Does this mean I must recite vocal prayers during my family's dinner conversation?  That doesn't sound like a charitable option.  Shall I hold a rosary while diapering the baby?  I can say with absolute authority that Our Lord would rather I hold onto the baby.  Do I buy a wooden choir stall and glue myself into it?  (okay, this is getting ridiculous).   

"Throughout the morning, afternoon, and evening, I use brief prayers to return me to my choir stall.  I turn my heart to God with inward phrases of prayer, no matter what I am doing or where I happen to be.  'Jesus, I trust in You…'  'Holy Spirit, be my guide….'"

This is not so difficult; in fact, it's not difficult at all.  And definitely not ridiculous.  It simply requires practice.

Recently I was re-acquainted with what is surely my favorite definition of prayer.  Certainly it makes me wonder if I'm praying a bit more than I had thought.

"Prayer is, at root, simply paying attention to God," wrote Ralph Martin in The Fulfillment of All Desire (quoted here, in the blog of Msgr. Charles Pope).

Pondering these words, I've made a decision.  As the day moves along, I would like to offer God a "litany of attentions."  These may look something like this....

Being thankful that I have food bubbling on the stove. 

Gratitude for family. 

Joy in the Maker of autumn colors.

Simply paying attention to God.

Offering an unseen sacrifice in prayer for a loved one.

Singing inner praises to God while I'm sitting stuck in traffic.

Inspiration that comes from prayer or art or teaching that I've run across online. 

Simply paying attention to God.  

I love the idea of a "litany" of remembrances throughout the day.  It strikes me as a perfect mode of transportation to carry me to the choir stall.

No matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing, I can simply pay attention to God.

Painting:  Aime Pez Familienidylle, 1839 cropped

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy Romans 8:1

The following scriptural sequence jumped out at me yesterday, as I thought of Halloween and its emphasis on darkness and evil and death.

And now we celebrate the blessed Feast of All Saints, when our attention goes to those who sing God's praises in glory and goodness and light. 

Halloween: "What a wretched man I am!  Who can free me from this body under the power of death?" (Romans 7:24)

The Answer:  "All praise to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!..."  (Romans 7:25)

The Celebration of All Saints:  "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  (Romans 8:1)

The Challenge for us:  "Those who live according to the flesh are intent on the things of the flesh, those who live according to the spirit, on things of the spirit.  The tendency of the flesh is toward death, but that of the spirit toward life and peace." (Romans 8:5-7)

Happy Romans 8:1.

Painting:  Henry Ryland, Supplication, 1898, detail

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What Gifts Did I Miss Today?

'At some point during the day, I try to set aside a block of time to spend with God.  I spend time in prayer with Scripture....'

As I continue to concentrate on times in my 'inner choir stall,' I realize that the 'block of time' prayer can be a life-changer.  Yet this is the part of prayer that's most difficult for me.  I sometimes put it off until I'm ready to fall into bed, and then find myself omitting it entirely.

Sometimes I wonder what I might have missed on such days.  What inspiration, guidance and insights did God have waiting for me?  Were there special gifts?  Was there a precious jewel I left, ignored and unwrapped, while I ooohed and aaahed over the world's offerings of glitter and plastic?

We have talked before, here, about prayer with Scripture.  We've also used numerous quotes by the writer known as "A Religious."  Today we will combine the two, as we sit at the feet at this anonymous Religious and listen.....

"1.  Take your New Testament..... Forget everything around you and be, for the time, alone with Him whose life is described here by the Spirit of Love.  He Himself addresses you from these pages with words of profound wisdom and divine compassion; words that have illuminated the centuries of human history with heavenly truth, and melted millions of human hearts to tears of compunction and love, nay more, words that have bound souls to Him with the strongest bonds that could be forged on earth, and thus bound, enabled them to suffer torments for His love....

"2.  Read some words or a few lines very slowly, read them again, and then wait for a moment and ask Jesus what He wants here to reveal to you about His love.  Read them once more, and talk them over quietly with yourself and with Jesus... Keep on doing this until the words begin to live. Be like the lover of music who plays a short, beautiful melody, and repeats it, again and again, until his soul is transformed by the harmony.  

"3.  Meditation from the New Testament will make us know Our Lord as scarcely anything else can do, for the original Author is God Himself, and it contains the history of the Word make flesh, Jesus Christ... The innermost reason for the fruitfulness of God's Word is that Christ is ever living; He is ever the God Who saves and quickens... Love, become great and burning by contact with God, takes possession of the powers of the soul, renders it strong and generous to do perfectly all the Father's will, to give itself up wholly to the divine good pleasure.  What better or more fruitful prayer than this?  What treasures await the searchers of the Gospels!  Oh, if only we knew the gift of God!" (from Fervorinos From Galilee's Hills, compiled by a Religious, Pelligrini, Australia, 1936, pp. 26-29)

If only we knew, indeed.  I can imagine a giant pile of gifts just stacked up, waiting, gifts of joy and strength and wisdom that I've shoved into a corner; gifts in packages gathering dust.  

Even now, a new one for today is being wrapped and labeled and offered.  Will I toss it aside, ignore it, say I have a lot to do but thank You anyway?  Or will I open it?

I choose.   

Painting:  John William Waterhouse, Saint Cecilia, 1895, detail 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's a Start

'Upon awakening in the morning, I can enter my choir stall by beginning my day with a prayer.  This is the framework upon which the rest of the day will be woven'. 

This doesn't have to be hard.  For me, it consists of remembering God as soon as I awaken; and, quite simply, of greeting Him.

I used to fret about this.  I wondered if I was doing it "right."  I wanted to be reverent, but "warm and loving and real."  What I have come to realize is that the actual words I say are not as important as the fact that I say something, or think something.  After all, God knows my thoughts and He knows my heart.

I enjoyed a recent Post by Msgr. Charles Pope, wherein he said (here) that one of the nicest descriptions he has heard of prayer comes from Ralph Martin, in the book The Fulfillment of All Desire.  Writes Dr. Martin: "Prayer is, at root, simply paying attention to God."  (p. 121).

Oh, I do love this.  

So:  I begin my day by paying attention to God.  For me, personally, this is not usually my time of lengthy mental prayer.  More accurately, I could say that my morning prayer is divided into two basic sections.  The first is when I wake up, uttering a brief spontaneous sentence or two as I begin the day.  The second part of morning prayer is a bit more formal, when I sit down with Scripture or perhaps some holy reading - maybe when I tuck into my pocket a little book of prayer to refer to and live "a section at a time."  Depending upon the duties of the day, however, the more "formal part" might come in the afternoon or evening. 

Because I don't live in a physical monastery, I cannot expect to adhere to the regular by-the-bell prayer times of those who do.  God does not expect this of me, either.  He expects me to live the vocation He has given me.  In that vocation, however, He does ask that I "pay attention to Him."  If I do so first thing in the morning, I am on track for the day ahead.

It's a start.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Portable Choir Stall

Coming across the following post from nearly two years ago, I realized anew that I truly DO want to live each day in the "choir stall of my heart."  Thinking of things in this way is a help to me.  It forms a kind of "template" with which I can pattern my life of prayer. 

So I've decided.  I'd like to look at each of the following "times in the choir stall" individually, keeping track of how I live (or don't live) each one of them.  I can share my findings here - thus providing some accountability (always a motivation!).  Will anything happen as a result of this?

I promise to let you know.  

It is morning in the monastery.  Sister silently enters the chapel and takes her place in a choir stall, a chair made exclusively to be a place of prayer. 

As the hours move on, Sister will come back and back to the choir stall.  Mid-morning, afternoon, evening, just before bedtime… here she returns to chant praise, participate in Mass, pray with Scripture, meet hour after hour with God.  Sister begins and continues and ends her day here.  She answers the bell’s call to prayer when she feels great and when she has a headache.  She comes to the choir stall when she feels close to God, when she's distracted, and when her spiritual life seems barren and dry. 

I have learned that, in the cloister of my heart, I, too, have a "choir stall."  Mine is a portable place of prayer, traveling with me to supermarket, airplane, mall.   I can "sit down" in this prayer-chair regardless of surroundings, seeking God's touch upon my life and on the lives of those around me.

There are no bells to call me to the choir stall.  I must build reminders into my own life.  For me, discipline is quite difficult; therefore, I find the following practices helpful.  Actually, I find them personally necessary if I hope to keep my life focused and on track:

Upon awakening in the morning, I can enter my choir stall by beginning my day with a prayer.  This is the framework upon which the rest of the day will be woven. 

At some point during the day, I try to set aside a block of time to spend with God.  I spend time in prayer with Scripture. It may also be possible for me to go to Mass or Adoration. "Even if your daily life in the service of mankind is overburdened with work, it has to include time devoted to silence and to prayer…. Learn to pray! "  (Pope John Paul II) 

Throughout the morning, afternoon, and evening, I use brief prayers to return me to my choir stall.  I turn my heart to God with inward phrases of prayer, no matter what I am doing or where I happen to be.  "Jesus, I trust in You…"  "Holy Spirit, be my guide…."

As I begin various activities, I can enter the choir stall by offering my actions to God and imploring His aid.  "O you who fear the Lord, praise Him in the places where you are now.  Change of place does not affect any drawing nearer to God, but wherever you may be, God will come to you." (Gregory of Nyssa).

As I retire, I close the day in my choir stall.  "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."  (From Liturgy of the Hours, Night Prayer).

Lord Jesus Christ, I ask You to form in me - anew - a habit of prayer.  Draw me to meet with You day after day, no matter what my circumstances, in the choir stall of my heart.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Just a Heart Determined

                        'Neither skill nor knowledge is required to enable us to go to God,
                        but just a heart determined to turn to Him only,
                        to beat for Him only,
                        and to love Him only.'

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Living Tabernacle


                                                 'I am God's temple,
                                                 my heart is a living Tabernacle,
                                                 and there at each moment I can live
                                                 and act continually
                                                 under His eyes
                                                 and under the vivifying impulse of His love.'

 (from Fervorinos From Galilee's Hills, compiled by a Religious, Pelligrini, Australia, 1936, p. 72)

 Frederic Leighton painting

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Sound of Eternity

'Song is the leap of mind in the eternal breaking out into sound.'
St. Thomas Aquinas

Painting:  Czigány, The Singing Monk

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