Friday, May 31, 2013

The Visitation

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

Mary visited Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56) because she had BEEN Visited by God.  She did not go to Elizabeth alone - she went with the Presence of Christ inside her.  

As one living "cloistered for Jesus" in the midst of the world, I carry Christ inside me as well.  Oh, not in the same unique way, certainly.  But according to Scripture and Church teaching, I indeed carry Him within. 

Mary went on a simple visit to Elizabeth.  It was an occasion that I'm sure went unnoticed by many.  A woman went to visit her kinswoman; something that happened all the time.   No one would have cried out: "look, there goes Mary on mission!" or "how about that!  This visit will be written of in the Bible!"  From the merely human perspective, it was simply a time of normal interaction between two women, two relatives.  
And so it is with us.  We have opportunities every single day to visit people with the presence of Christ.  In the everyday activities of life, we visit family members, neighbors, store clerks, e-mailers, callers on the phone. 

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

It is the essence, in my estimation, of going through the world with Jesus in the "cloister of my heart." 

Painting: Frans Francken (II), De Visitatie 

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The above is a slightly abridged version of the post here on May 31st, 2012.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Three Obedient Bees

The Feast of the Visitation is this coming Friday, May 31st.  It is a feast I love, for it celebrates an event embodying much of what I want to live as a "cloistered heart."

The Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary love this feast as well.  Certainly they do.  They take their name from the scene of the visitation, when our Blessed Mother visited Elizabeth because both had first been Visited (one uniquely) by God.

In 1610, St. Jane de Chantal and two others stepped into a little house in Annecy, France, and thus the Order of the Visitation began.  Just the three of them, gathering to serve God for one reason only:  He had called them.  They did not know the path ahead.  They were not thinking centuries into the future.  They came in simple obedience, to love, to adore, to serve.

These ladies were, said Bishop Francis de Sales,  "like three little bees in a beehive or three innocent doves in a nest."  "Looking upon them with great joy, he said 'you are blessed because the Lord has chosen you.  Your courage is great; God will be your King.'  He then handed over to Madame de Chantal a compendium of the constitution which he had composed for them and said, 'follow this path, my dearest daughter, and see that it is followed by all those whom Heaven has destined to walk in your footsteps.'" (from Every Day with St. Francis de Sales, Francis J.  Klauder SDB ed., Salesiana Publishers, 1985,p.  159)

403 years later, people still walk in the footsteps of these first three women.  I present the following  as "evidence" of this fact.  If you have any interest at all in nuns or in cloistered life (are you smiling yet?), I strongly encourage you to take a look at this 6-minute video.

Amazing, isn't it, what God can do with three obedient bees...? 


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Blessed Equal Three

'O Blessed Trinity!
Thy children
dare to give
their hearts to Thee,
and bless
Thy triple Majesty!
Holy Trinity!
Blessed equal Three,
One God,
we praise
- Father  Faber, 19th century

Saturday, May 25, 2013

More Fleeting Than a Shadow

'For certain, this life is only a phantom of life,
and its pleasures
only the shadows of pleasures....

'If pleasure is met with
here below,
it is more fleeting than a shadow,

'for the soul's true satisfaction
is to reach its goal,
which is God -
and this everlasting,
and most to be desired, eternity.'

St. Jane de Chantal

Painting: Lovis Corinth Schattenspiele 1891

Friday, May 24, 2013

Our Patroness

The concept of the cloistered heart can be said to have several "patrons," but one saint in particular serves as a primary role model.  Why?  Perhaps the following will help, at least a little, to answer that question....

St. Jane de Chantal was Francis de Sales' co-founder of the Visitation of Holy Mary.  Before becoming a nun, however, Jane was a young widow consulting St. Francis for spiritual direction.  At that time, she was a busy laywoman with four children to raise.  Recognizing the desires of her heart, Francis de Sales directed Jane "in her growing intimacy and conformity to the signified will of God.  He even confirmed her in the practice of imaging her own spiritual world with monastic imagery.  For example, she took the Virgin Mary as the Abbess of the cloister of her own heart."  
(Wendy Wright, Joseph Power OSFS and Peronne Marie Thibert VHM, Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal, Letters of Spiritual Direction, Paulist, 1988, p. 41) 

"The spirit of God does not depend on retirement.  Rather it is a spirit that strengthens and perfects all occupations." - St. Jane de Chantal

"Ah, what a happiness to live thus in the world without sharing in its miserable affections and aims!"  - St. Jane de Chantal

"You must adhere to this practice of looking at God within you and it will absorb all others."  - St. Jane de Chantal

"Our Lord, in no place of Scripture, says... give Me thy head, thine arms, thy life, but only:  My child, give Me thy heart.  Whoso has a person's heart, has the entire person.  The heart is the seat of love.  When I shall have thy heart, I shall set My love upon it.  I will make My love dwell therein and then all the rest will follow as a consequence."  - St. Jane de Chantal

For more background on St. Jane, click this line

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Cloistered Heart

'The heart is
the dwelling-place
where I am,
where I live;

'according to the Semitic
or Biblical expression,
the heart is the place
to which I withdraw.

'The heart is our hidden center,
beyond the grasp of our reason
and of others;

'only the Spirit of God
can fathom the human heart
and know it fully.

'The heart is the place of decision,
deeper than our psychic drives.

'It is the place of truth,
where we choose life or death.

'It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation;

'it is the place of covenant.'

Catechism of the Catholic Church #2563

Painting:  Philippe de Champaigne, St. Augustine (detail)

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Breakthrough!

The painting on this post is one I used last Pentecost.  I love posting it in large size.  I love the truth it underlines as it breaks through the margin, spills into the background, and causes this blog to burst at the seams.  I can think of nothing more appropriate for today's Feast. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This material is taken from last year's Pentecost post.  Text not in quotes     

(Pentecost painting by Jean Restout)

A new comments screen has just opened in the Parlor.  Click here to visit!  A link there will lead you right back here. 

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Friday, May 17, 2013

In Prayer, They Waited

"On one occasion when (Jesus) met with them, He told them not to leave Jerusalem.  'Wait, rather, for the fulfillment of My Father's promise, of which you have heard Me speak.  John baptized with water, but within a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 1:4-5)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

No Language Gap

The term 'spiritual ideolect' is becoming part of my everyday thought, particularly in relation to the life of heart-cloister.  To refresh our memory (and so we don't have to keep looking it up), I'll return to the explanation presented by Connie Rossini: 'Everyone has an idiolect--a collection of personal speech habits that is different from anyone else's. Have you ever thought about your spiritual idiolect?  Since your soul is unique, you have a personal way of speaking to God that no one else completely shares.'

How does this relate to cloister of the heart?  I would say that we each have a particular way of living for God and speaking with God in the midst of the world... yet if we are bent on genuinely following God's will, we have the same Homeland and the same 'mother tongue.'   We use similar terminology, but we might think of it a bit differently.  For instance, when I use the word 'grille,' I generally picture a panel made of crisscrossed wooden latticework.  You may think of something in a wrought iron swirly pattern.

Yet when we go on to speak of seeing all things through this, and when we compare that to looking at life through the will of God, the same basic idea comes into play for both of us. 

The important thing - the thing that does not change - is that we are both choosing to view and respond to persons and circumstances as God instructs.  That is: according to Scripture and the authentic teachings of the Church.

Our friend 'Chloe,' on the other hand (a fictional person), might decide to primarily base her conduct on the counsel of a Hollywood celebrity.  While there may be no conflict (at times) between Scripture and the latest opinions of a television host, the host's words are not what we are called to live by.  Even when they're clever, humanitarian, and look nice embroidered on a pillow, the star's words will never be our grillwork.  Only Scripture and the teachings of the Church could ever make that claim.  Chloe might say that she is living as God wants, but if she never looks into Scripture or Church teaching to be sure, and if she's choosing to follow something other than these, her interpretation of  'as God wants' is not the same as ours.  There is a language gap.

With this in mind, I will offer a few more scriptures.  If we were to all read these aloud, we'd undoubtedly do so in a medley of regional accents.  And if I'm understanding the concept of spiritual ideolects correctly, we would read them with different heart-emphases as well.  Our backgrounds, memories, trials, formations would all come into play.

There is no language gap here, however - no matter how varied our backgrounds - when we embrace Scripture and Church teaching as the bases of our grillwork.

We know that no worldly exhortations, however enticing, could ever take their place.

'Happy the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked, nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent,  but delights in the law of the Lord, and meditates on His law day and night.   He is like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade.'  (Psalm 1:1-3)

'Stay clear of worldly, idle talk and the contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.  In laying claim to such knowledge, some men have missed the goal of faith.'  (1 Timothy 6:20-21)

'All Scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching - for reproof, correction, and training in holiness, so that the man of God may be fully competent and equipped for every good work.'  (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

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Friday, May 10, 2013

These Four Evangelists

As I wrote here a few days ago, I want to look a bit into my own 'spiritual ideolect' (a term coined by blogger Connie Rossini); that is: those saints and writings that have formed my heart for God.  These are the saints and writings that have formed the concept of the 'cloistered heart' as well, because for me the two are essentially inseparable.  

With this in mind, I was delighted to find the painting used on this post.  I don't recall ever seeing the four writers of the Gospels pictured together, by themselves, and certainly not in such an appealing composition.  

I look at the scene in wonder.  Did they know the responsibility they were shouldering, the weight of what they were writing?  Could they have imagined the people, centuries later, who would experience their words leaping from pages and into the readers' own hearts? 

How I thank God for these four evangelists!  Their writings teach us of our Lord and Master.  What they wrote nearly 2,000 years ago is the very basis of my (our) spiritual ideolect, because any 'formation' not based on the Gospels, as taught by the Church, would be no formation at all.  It would be built on quivering, unstable ground.  

The writings of these God-inspired and God-called evangelists, by the action of the Holy Spirit, bring the Word Himself into our souls. 

"In the beginning was the Word; the Word was in God's presence, and the Word was God.  He was present to God in the beginning.  Through Him all things came into being, and without Him nothing came to be.  Whatever came to be in Him found life, life for the light of men.  The Light shines on in darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it."  (John 1:1-5)

"When all the people were baptized, and Jesus was at prayer after likewise being baptized, the skies opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove.  A voice from heaven was heard to say: 'You are My beloved Son.  On You My favor rests.'''  (Luke 3:21-22)

"The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve - to give His life in ransom for the many."  (Mark 10:45)

"Jesus came forward and addressed them in these words: 'Full authority has been given to Me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations.  Baptize them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.  And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!"  (Matthew 28:18-20).

Painting:  Jordaens, Four Evangelists, Louvre

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Visited, we can visit

Today is the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord.  As we know, this feast commemorates Jesus’ return to his Father in heaven.  As we also know, this means that Pentecost is right around the liturgical corner.  
And as some who have been reading here for awhile may recall, the Annunciation, the visitation, and Pentecost are linked together in this blogger's mind.  
When the apostles were gathered in the Upper Room awaiting the promised Holy Spirit, our Blessed Mother was with them.  Together, all devoted themselves to prayer.  Together, all waited.
Pentecost was not the first time our Blessed Mother would receive a Visitation from God.  Surely during her time in the Upper Room, the Mother of Jesus thought back through scenes from His earthly life, and probably her mind recalled that glorious day when an angel had appeared to her. 
I think of the Annunciation as the "big V" that led to the "little v."  God directly pierced through human history, like an arrow parting the waters of sin, darkness, and death. 
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy Offspring to be born will be called Son of God."  (Luke 1:35)

Immediately upon saying these words to Mary, the angel added:  "Know that Elizabeth your kinswoman has conceived a son in her old age.."  (Luke 1:36)  Mary then went in haste to Elizabeth, making a visitation because both had been Visited (one in a totally unique way, of course) by God.  
There would have been no visit of Mary to Elizabeth if there had been no Visit to Mary by the angel. 

There would have been no Pentecost if there had been no Incarnation.  

Without God's Visitation to Mary and her total yes to Him, we would have had no Savior, no Cross, no Resurrection, no Ascension of Jesus, no gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, no Church. 
With this in mind, I pray that we will be graced to open our hearts more fully to receiving Visitations from the Holy Spirit.  I pray that we will visit Him in return, in praise and adoration.  Only then will we be empowered to visit those around us in witness, in works of mercy, and through prayer. 
"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be My witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth."  (Acts 1:8)

Text not in quotes

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Idiolects and Visitations

We are still three weeks away from the Feast of the Visitation (one of my favorites on the Church calendar), but having found a copy of my favorite painting of the scene, I cannot wait to share it.  This artwork is by Carl Bloch, and as far as I can tell it's in US public domain. 

The scene of the Visitation is enormously special to me.  As a "cloistered heart" and as an individual Catholic, I find this mystery layered with meaning.  Two women who have been Visited by the Spirit of God (one in a totally unique way, of course) visit one another to share the awe of their Visitations.  In days just ahead, I will begin to look into more "layers" of what this means to me.

In the meantime, I am personally delighted to announce a new way in which we can share how God has been Visiting each one of us.

Today is the "official" launching of a new blog featuring a network of bloggers... ones who write almost exclusively on growing in holiness and love of God.  Catholic Spirituality Blogs Network   has been described by its administrator, Connie Rossini, as "a community of Catholic bloggers who have come together to promote growth in Christ."

Today Connie wrote the following on the new blog:  "Everyone has an idiolect--a collection of personal speech habits that is different from anyone else's. Have you ever thought about your spiritual idiolect? Since your soul is unique, you have a personal way of speaking to God that no one else completely shares.

"God has a specific plan for your spiritual life. He will always lead you in accordance with the teachings of the Church.... " (click here to read the rest).

Intriguing, isn't it?   These words have made me reflect upon my own "spiritual idiolect," which I will be looking into here in days just ahead.

The Visitation is a mystery I ponder and try to "live" almost every day of my life.  As such, it is definitely part of my own "spiritual idiolect."  And so, realizing I am not worthy to utter the very words, I say:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exalts in God my Savior.  God Who is mighty has done great things for me.  Holy is His Name."  (Luke 1:46-49)

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Invitation

"'Abide in Me!'  What an unusual invitation!  What a plea for sanctity!  What a call to intimacy!  What an assurance of God's thirst for our love!  

"Shall we accept this invitation, respond to this call?  Or shall we let well-enough alone and refuse to make so hazardous a venture....

"This intimate life in God is offered to all.  It is forced upon no one.  It is accepted by few."

These lines have stuck with me since I read them recently.  I find myself pondering the truth of them, realizing how easy it is to let well-enough alone.  After all, I'm comfortable going through my days trying not to rock boats, ruffle feathers, or hand over to God those parts of my life that I'd really prefer to manage on my own.

To abide in God, continues the author of these words, "is the relinquishment of all in order to be buried in God.  We know that God dwells within the soul.  He waits, however, for the soul to give Him freedom to work at her perfection.  The soul decides the amount of freedom she will give to the Builder of Saints.  He awaits her decision."  (Sheltering the Divine Outcast, compiled by A Religious, The Peter Reilly Co, Philadelphia, 1952, pp.160-163)

How much freedom will I give to the Builder of Saints?  The choice is mine.  He awaits my decision.

This intimate life in God is offered to all.

It is forced upon no one.

It is accepted by few.

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Painting by Heinrich Vogeler Frühling, in US public domain

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Captives, We Awaited a Savior

As I look back over the basics of heart monasticism, I keep coming back to the importance of Jesus.  

Well, of course.  Without Jesus, we would have remained stuck with the results of humanity's original fall.  "The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God, who 'loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins'... Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again.  We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us.... captives, we awaited a Savior.'"(Catechism of the Catholic Church #457)  

In one of His discussions with His disciples, Jesus asked “who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  There were several answers before Jesus turned the question into something more personal.  “And you… who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-15)

Scripture answers this question.  Jesus is the “reflection of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of the Father’s Being.”  (Hebrews 1:3).  Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 14:61-62).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us plainly: “He is the only Son of the Father, He is God himself.”  (#454).  This is Who Jesus is, in His essence.

What if Jesus were to stand before me, this very day, look intently into my eyes, and ask me personally:  “And YOU.  Who do YOU say that I am?......”  

How would I respond?