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.'

BĂ©rard 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