Wednesday, December 31, 2014

How to Begin the Year

"The Church begins the year with the name of Jesus....

... Let us place this name on our lips and in our hearts."  - Dom Marmion

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Snapshots from a Backwards Blogger

"The Cloistered Heart," I wrote in 1996, "is prayer, a way of life, an experience. It is a heart learning to love God, a will vacillating between yielding to God and struggling against Him, it is encounter, it is poem....  I would like to tell you about this enclosure, this heart monasticism which has truly changed my life; yet I hope you will understand when I say I cannot tell you.  I can only show you 'snapshots' from my own journey into a cloister which I have found to be so beautiful that I never want to leave it again...." (from book The Cloistered Heart, Preface)

Thus it began. Or at least, thus began the preface, written to introduce a book that was taken from my 1993 magazine article that was taken from my journals begun in 1985. In other words, journal entries (i.e. "snapshots") were condensed into an article that was then expanded into a book that, years later, became the basis for a blog which you are now (heroically, since you've made it through this paragraph) reading.

Have I confused you yet? If not, just wait a minute. All our heads will be swimming if we manage to hang in there for this whole post.

The thing is: I blog backwards. Most people seem more likely to "journal" into a blog, then (maybe) a few of them organize some of the content into a book, in time. I've done the exact opposite. I journaled in quiet prayer, or while I rode with my husband in his boat, or when I awoke in the middle of the night. How such random, deeply personal thoughts made the trek from journals to magazine(s) to book(s) to becoming "organized" in a blog is a story in itself. In the meantime, I am growing as these concepts are arranged, here, more and more into categories.  I hope you find the organization (such as it is) helpful as well.

"Snapshots," however, are still being taken. I still indulge in an occasional journal ramble, a working-through-in-writing-scribble of how I can surrender to God in this situation, and that one. In other words; more personal things.

If you will indulge me, I'd like to share some fresh new "snapshots" right here once in awhile. After all, I've been practicing the "view through the grille" for such a long time now. Too bad I still struggle to see it clearly. I'd like to share some of the struggles, now and then.  Maybe once a week or so, in the midst of our regular posts?

As for photography itself, well - that has changed a lot since 1996, hasn't it?  It's all so instant now.  Perhaps cloistered heart journaling could be a bit like that?

Let's see what a new batch of snapshots just might unfold.

The Backwards Blogger, Reggolb Sdrawkcab

Painting: William Holman Hunt

Monday, December 29, 2014

Hope for the New Year

'Never fear 
that your past faults 
and infidelities 
will prevent you reaching 
the degree of union 
that God intends for you; 
in an instant 
He can repair all that.'

Dom Marmion

Painting: Richard Edward Miller, The Shadow, 
in US public domain due to age

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Of Christmas

'All days from the measure of this bright day gain blessings.

All the feasts from the stores of this feast have their fairness and their ornaments...

Great is this day above all days, for in it came forth mercy to sinners.

A medicine chest is this great day, because on it shone forth the Medicine of Life to the wounded.

A treasure of helpful graces is this day, because on it, Light gleamed forth on our blindness.'

                                                                                                           St. Ephraem the Syrian

Painting: Le Main Brothers, Nativity with the Torch

Saturday, December 20, 2014

As in a Mist

'Teach us, O Mother, to carry Him as you did, completely oblivious of material things, with the eyes of your soul fixed unceasingly upon Jesus within you, contemplating and adoring Him in continual wonder.

'You passed in the midst of created things as in a dream, seeing everything that was not Jesus as though in a mist, while He shone and scintillated in your soul as resplendent as the sun, and encompassed your heart and enlightened your mind.

'Teach us to act on our little excursions in this world and indeed on our whole journey through life so that we may walk as you did, on your travels and every day, seeing external things as though they were plunged in deep darkness, with our eyes fixed only on your Jesus Who illuminates our souls like a flash of fire.'

Charles de Foucauld

Painting: Herman Richir, in US public domain due to age

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Burn This Straw and Change It

'My soul is poor and bare of virtues,
the straws of so many imperfections
will prick You and make You weep;
but O, my Lord, what can You expect?
This little is all I have.
I am touched by Your poverty...
Jesus, honor my soul with Your presence,
adorn it with Your graces.
Burn this straw
and change it into a soft couch
for Your most holy body.

'Jesus, I am here waiting for Your coming.
Wicked men have driven You out
and the wind is like ice.
Come into my heart.
I am poor, but I will warm You
as well as I can....

'I want to adore You,
to kiss You on the brow, O tiny Jesus,
to give myself to You once more, forever.
Come, my Jesus, delay no longer.
Come, be my Guest.'

St. Pope John XXIII

Painting:  Detail of Sheep in Manger, Charles Emile Jacque, digitally altered

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Advent Linkup

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dear Saint Nicholas,

My wish this year is not like what I’ve asked for before.  I'm not writing to ask for candy or trinkets.  This year I have but one wish:  I want to be a candle.

I want to stand tall and firm, carrying the Light of Christ even when winds and storms lash about me.  You see, good St. Nicholas, the world has grown terribly dark.  We talk of peace and sing of peace, yet rumors of wars swirl all around.  We’re busy and distracted, we have no time left over to pray.  We get confused about what is truth and what is not; we redefine sin and call it “choice” and “entertainment,” and there is more darkness around than I could tell you about.  In fact, there’s more darkness than I can even see.  It can be hard to peer into darkness, and I feel sometimes like a child at night who wants to cover her head with blankets and wait for morning light.  I need the light; the world needs the light.  So I want to be a candle.

Like a pillar of flame standing beside the Tabernacle in a monastery, lifting firelight fingers high in adoration, I want to offer praise to God.  Like a sanctuary light gently calling attention to the fact that Jesus is with us, I want to keep vigil by His side and call attention to Him.  I would like to flicker softly, as a gentle reminder of His presence, no matter where I may be.  So I want to be a candle.

I know I am asking a lot.  I know that in order for the Flame to increase, a candle must decrease.  A candle gives itself for the Fire; it gives its all.  That’s okay.  You see, I want to live my life for God.  I am not so good at the doing of this, but with the grace of God I’m getting better at the wanting.  

And I want to be a candle….

“The light came into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were wicked.  Everyone who practices evil hates the light; he does not come near it, for fear his deeds will be exposed.  But he who acts in truth comes into the light, to make clear that his deeds are done in God.” (John 3:19-21)

“The light shines on in darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

This is a republication of a post from our archives.


Top painting by Godfried Schalcken, detail
Animated candle in public domain, from Wikimedia

Monday, December 15, 2014

We Blush With Shame

'You, O eternal God... have come down from the great height of Your divinity to the mire of our humanity, because the lowliness of my intellect could neither understand nor behold such height. In order that my littleness might see Your greatness, You became a little child, concealing the greatness of Your Deity in the littleness of our humanity....

O blush with shame, blind creature, so exalted and honored by your God, not to know that God, in His inestimable charity, came down from the height of His infinite Deity to the lowliness of your humanity!'

St. Catherine of Siena

Painting: James Tissot, 
St. Joseph Seeks Lodging in Bethlehem

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gaudate Sunday

The Time 

To our e-mail subscribers: this post contains a video. As always, advertisements on videos are not chosen nor endorsed by me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Invited, Through a Back Door

'Mary is now with child, awaiting birth, and Joseph is full of expectancy as he enters the city of his own family. He searched for a place for the birth of him to whom heaven and earth belonged. 

'Could it be that the Creator would not find room in his own creation? Certainly, thought Joseph, there would be room in the village inn. There was room for the rich; there was room for those who were clothed in soft garments; there was room for everyone who had a tip to give to the innkeeper.

'But when finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest line of all will be: "There was no room in the inn." 

'No room in the inn, but there was room in the stable. 

'The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world's moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. 

'But there's no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is a place for outcasts, the ignored and the forgotten. 

'The world might have expected the Son of God to be born in an inn; a stable would certainly be the last place in the world where one would look for him. The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. 

'So the Son of God made man is invited to enter into his own world through a back door.'

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen 

Painting: Constable, Donkeys in the stable

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

That Wondrous Interruption

This time of year can bring both blessing and hassle.  Meditations, carols, the contagious wonder of wide-eyed children...  these unwrap great blessings and often 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 house.  There 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 that wondrous interruption, God tore through the fabric of time.

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


Painting at top: John William Waterhouse, The Annunciation
Painting in middle: Blake, Ancient of Days

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Advent Linkup

Sunday, December 7, 2014

But Take Courage!

'The one peculiar and characteristic sin of the world is this:
that whereas God would have us live for the life to come, 
the world would make us live for this life.'
(John Henry Cardinal Newman)

'You will suffer in the world, but take courage!
I have overcome the world'
(words of Jesus in John 16:33)

Painting: José García Ramos, Leaving a Masqued Ball 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Necessary Winter

'In heaven it shall be all a springtime of beauty, 
all an autumn of enjoyment, all a summer of love. 
Winter there shall be none; 
but here winter is necessary for the exercise of abnegation 
and of the thousand beautiful little virtues 
which are practiced in the time of barrenness.' 

St. Francis de Sales

Painting: Jules Breton, Last Flowers

Friday, December 5, 2014

Are You Hurting? Let us Pray

It seems the world is obsessed with Christmas; so beautifully obsessed. As my friend RG pointed out to me years ago, this would never have been the case if Jesus had not come to us.

For some people, however, this is a painful time of year. A season to be gotten through, tackled, weathered like a storm. How can the rest of the world be rejoicing if someone I love is in the throes of a serious illness? How can I turn on a radio if I'm taking a chance on hearing my recently deceased father's favorite carol? Maybe my best friend or a beloved relative is off in a faraway land. While everyone else is celebrating, I just might burst into tears.

I suspect many of us have had such seasons, at one time or another, over the years. Times when we'd rather just skip the decorating and the ho-ho-hos and wait for a white blanket of January to settle the world back into its normal routine.

These words might seem strange to anyone who has never experienced loss. Depending upon our ages and states of life, we may be among those. However, if anyone reading this is grieving, in pain, depressed by the long dark nights of winter, or maybe just wishing the holidays would be over and gone - know that you are not alone.

In fact, you are so "not alone" that I'm going to ask a favor of everyone reading this.

Could we each take just a minute and offer a little prayer for anyone coming across these words who might be hurting?  If this post gets to a number of people, that could amount to quite a few prayers.

May God lift burdens, heal pains, comfort loneliness, and soothe hearts. 'We beseech You, Lord and Master, be our help and succor, save those among us who are in tribulations, have mercy on the lowly, lift up the fallen, show Yourself to the needy, heal the ungodly; convert the wanderers of Your people, feed the hungry, release our prisoners, raise up the weak, comfort the fainthearted, let all nations know You are God.'  (St. Clement of Rome)

'Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for You.' (1 Peter 5:7)

(this is an edited version of a post first published on this blog last year)

Painting: Lukjan Vasilievich Popov, In the Garden 1911


Thursday, December 4, 2014

As in a Palace of Splendor

'My heart is Your abode, O King of Eternal Glory. Rule in my heart and be Lord, as in a palace of splendor untold.' (St. Faustina, Diary 1231)

'Jesus, behold my heart which is for You a dwelling place to which no one else has entry.' (St. Faustina, Diary 1385)

'My goal is God... and my happiness is in accomplishing His will, and nothing in the world can disturb this happiness for me: no power, no force of any kind.' (St. Faustina, Diary 775)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Something Important Happened

Some lessons have stuck with me over the years. What I have called "the lesson of the lights" is one of those. 

Thanks to a friend, I think of this every Advent season. I share it now from our archives, with a bit of minor editing this time around.

Advent is only a few days old, and already Christmas decorations cover stores and windows and lawns. In Church we wait 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.

RG 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 my friend, "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.  


Monday, December 1, 2014

Enclosed in a Journey

I came across the following today. It is a brief reflection, scribbled when the idea of 'the cloistered heart' was still quite new.

I do not enter the enclosure of God's will in a once-for-all step. I don't bid farewell to the world and twirl merrily off into Dreamland. I choose the will of God, I implore His grace to keep me 'enclosed,' and then:  

I embark upon a journey.

There are hallways, hills, tunnels, valleys, stairs, entrances, walls, obstacles, gates, ladders, windows, shutters, ramps before me. I do not know what awaits my timid steps. 

There are doors and I must go through them. There are portals of circumstance still unseen. 

There is light here, and primarily this is the light of God's Word. It leads me on. There is the light of Church teaching as well, helping to make straight my paths. 'God's word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path.'  

If I am to travel deep into the will of God, I must embrace the finer - the finest - points of His will. 

Cloister of the heart is a journey into the depths, a trek into ever deepening surrender. I see basic boundaries today, but some - the boundaries and doors of unfolding circumstances - I cannot see.  They are hidden and obscure.

It is only by opening one door that I can journey toward the others.   

My cloister, therefore, is not a small enclosure.  It is as big and deep as the plan of God.  It is as wide as His love, as far-reaching as His call.   

I am enclosed in a journey.

I am traveling more deeply into the will of God.  


Top painting:  William Paxton, 1921, in US public domain due to age
Door photo in public domain
Bottom painting: A Procession in the Catacomb of Callistus

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Advent Window, Reopened

I never greet an Advent without remembering a much earlier one, a pivotal one, in which God began to reach me.  He did so not in spite of the Christmas glitz and commercialism all around, but through it.

That Advent, I was twenty years old........

(read the rest by clicking this line)

Top: Stannard, Christmas Still Life
Bottom: Franz Skarbina, Unter dem Weihnachtsbaum, digitally lettered

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Advent Linkup.

Monday, November 24, 2014

In All Created Things

'In all created things discern 
the providence and wisdom of God, 
and in all things give Him thanks.'

St. Teresa of Avila

Severin Roesen painting, digitally altered

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Holiday Heroics

The holiday season is almost upon us. Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas. We will cook, decorate, gather with family and friends. It's time for preparation, festivities, fun.

It can also be a time for heroics.

We talked, in our last post, about our call to be heroes of the faith in our everyday lives. I cannot think of a better season than this one for everyday heroism.

Such opportunities! And oh, how I have squandered them. For too many years, I've shoved aside chances to bake, chop, clean, serve, shop, plan and wrap heroically. I've been found grumbling instead of praying, resenting rather than thanking.

There is much to do in little time with little money. Some of us are surrounded by so many people that we want to run away to a quiet room. For others, the loneliness of yet another holiday can stab with the force of a sword.

In all of it, there are chances for heroism. I can offer up busyness or loneliness as prayer. I can complain about all this cooking and all this wrapping, or I can bring peace to others by simply keeping my mouth shut (for some of us, silence can be truly heroic).

And when I'm seated at Thanksgiving dinner next to that cousin who constantly, publicly, loudly criticizes my faith, I can stick up gently but firmly for Christ. True heroes have died for Him since the first days of the Church. I can die a little to myself by not scrambling to hide the fact that I truly believe in Jesus, and that I choose to live for Him today.  'To be criticized, denounced and despised by good men, by our own friends and relatives, is a severe test of virtue.' (St. Francis de Sales)

The season is almost upon us.  Let the Holiday Heroics begin.

Painting: Franck Antoine Bail, Carving the Pumpkin, 1910
This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Hidden Staircase

I would like to continue looking at our calls - yours and mine - to be heroes of the faith in our everyday lives.

Doesn't that sound like quite a goal? Heroes? Saints?!

To be with God in Heaven is sainthood, and we are all called to it. The world will not put the designation 'Saint' before our names, but that's of no importance. God will know. God knows now. He sees every little step we take, every hidden hint of progress toward holiness. 'By holiness we mean the absence of whatever sullies, dims and degrades a rational nature; all that is most opposite to sin and guilt.' (Blessed John Henry Newman).

Did I accept God's grace today to conquer some temptation, perhaps in a tiny, hidden moment?  Did I stop myself from lashing out at someone in anger? Have I accepted what came my way without grumbling? Did I go graciously to a crying baby, or a spouse who wanted attention, or a neighbor in need?

If I haven't made any recent steps upward, I can be sure there are plenty of opportunities ahead. I don't have to look up the staircase and around the bends of it; there will be grace for those steps when I'm there. In the meantime, I have this next little step in front of me. And now this next.....

'Little by little we must acquire that dominion over ourselves which cost the saints many decades of years.' (St. Francis de Sales)

What hope this quote from St. Francis gives me!  

'Little by little.' Step by step.

'...which cost the saints many decades of years.' 

Through the profound grace of God, there is much hope.


Painting: William McGregor Paxton 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Go Ahead! Courage!

'Go ahead! Courage! 
In the spiritual life he who does not go forward goes backward. 
It is the same with a boat which must always go forward. 
If it stands still, the wind will blow it back.'

St. Padre Pio

Painting: Charles Napier Hemy, Running for Home

Monday, November 10, 2014

These Heroic Stones

Debbie at Saints 365 has written an immensely practical series of posts on living heroically one minute at a time. One minute of heroism added to another added to another added to another.

And it occurs to me.

Minute by minute heroics is a good way to cooperate with God in constructing the monastery of the heart. 

'Have you seen how that imposing building was built? One brick upon another. Thousands. But, one by one. And bags of cement, one by one. And blocks of stone, each of them insignificant compared with the massive whole. And beams of steel. And men working, the same hour, day after day.... Have you seen how that imposing building was built? ... By dint of little things!' (St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way 823) 

I am being given thousands, millions, of minutes to live on this earth. Each is insignificant compared with the whole .. but each one, added to each other one, is absolutely necessary to make up my life. I have the minutes, I have the mortar of free will, and I have the Architect's plan of Scripture.

In recent weeks, I have recognized one seemingly inconsequential way in which I haven't been following the plan all that well. Sometimes I grab a few perfectly good, newly minted minutes, and slap the mortar on them with a snarl. I have not considered this activity significant at all, because my snarls have been directed at "things." At inanimate objects like misbehaving computers, spoons that leap out of my hand onto the floor, remotes that play hide-and-seek.

I am anything but heroic when these items play their tricks. Huffs and grumbles and loud sighs pop right out of me in search of the offending object. "Take THAT snarl, you rotten, jumping spoon!"

I don't do this when others are around. At least - not when they're in the same room. Or, well, not when anyone is actually paying attention. Or, well, that's how it started. It began as a casual hrrumph here, an innocent snap there.  So what if it's becoming more of a habit?  It isn't as if it's hurting anything. Except, of course, a few hyperactive spoons.

But the development of such behavior is far from heroic. It is pulling me away from "heroism" toward a grumbling, critical habit of internal whining. If I let it, it can alter the way I look at life. It certainly is not seeing things "through the grille."

Having suddenly realized this, I am asking for grace to overcome my misuse of minutes. Minutes, each one precious, each one individual, in which I have the chance to be heroic. Not just passably good enough, but heroic. I don't have to give in to big sins, and I don't have to indulge in moments of whining.

If I am tempted to grumble - why, look at the opportunity I'm being given! I can resist the temptation, and I can thank God in that very moment. Thank You, Lord, that I have a computer on which to write of Your goodness, and if that device is acting up right now, give me patience to deal with it and to turn this moment to good. Thank you for a TV... may we use it to Your glory.  And thank You, Lord, for plenty of food to eat - I truly don't thank You enough for that. And thank You that I don't have to eat it with my hands.

Thank You for a nice, washable floor to catch all my spoons.

Painting (including detail): Henri Martin, in US public domain due to age

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Gradual Courage

Hero: someone admired for great courage. Thus says my dictionary.

Heroic saints: those in Heaven who had the courage to get there. Which is everyone who IS there. Thus says me.

Yes, that second is my own definition and it's cumbersome, but I believe it's accurate.

After all, it takes courage to...

1. admit I am a sinner in need of a Savior
2. put my faith in Jesus Christ, especially  when the world around considers Him insignificant
3. choose to believe Scripture
4. choose to believe 2,000 years of authentic Church teaching
5. choose to live according to Scripture and Church teaching
6. choose to live according to the teachings of Christ, no matter what
7. overcome obstacles to living for Christ

Every saint we've ever read about, every Christian martyr, has had this kind of courage. They became saints because they lived heroically. Some were martyred on scaffolds, or by stoning, or in lions' dens. Some endured imprisonments for their faith. Some led the most ordinary of lives, caring for those around them, unnoticed by the world. 

Not one of the saints we read of was born with heroic, saint-making courage. The courage most often came gradually, step after baby step, followed sometimes by a defining leap or two. Along the path there were missteps, moments of caution, roadblocks. Each saint grew in courage, step by step by step.

"Francis' conversion did not happen overnight. God had waited for him for twenty-five years and now it was Francis' turn to wait. Francis started to spend more time in prayer. He went off to a cave and wept for his sins. Sometimes God's grace overwhelmed him with joy. But life couldn't just stop for God. There was business to run, customers to wait on. One day while riding through the countryside, Francis, the man who loved beauty, who was so picky about food, who hated deformity, came face to face with a leper. Repelled by the appearance and the smell of the leper, Francis nevertheless jumped down from his horse and kissed the hand of the leper......" (from Catholic Online)

St. Augustine "spent many years of his life in wicked living and false beliefs.... he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted on reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terribly ashamed of himself. 'What are we doing?' he cried to his friend Alipius. 'Unlearned people are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling in the mud of our sins!' Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine flung himself into the garden and cried out to God, 'how long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?' Just then he heard a child singing, 'take up and read!'  Thinking that God intended him to hear these words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul and read the first passage his gaze fell on. It was just what Augustine needed, for in it, St. Paul says to put away all impurity and to live in imitation of Jesus. That did it! From then on, Augustine began a new life...." (from Catholic Online)  

I would like to spend some time here, over the next few days, looking at courage. And at our call  - yes, your and my call - to be heroic.  If the world is in need of anything right now, it is a hefty dose of heroism.

In the tiny, hidden, day to day circumstances of our ordinary lives, imagine becoming "heroic!" It sounds presumptuous, doesn't it? But it isn't. It is not presumptuous at all.

Everyone in Heaven is a saint. So do we really want to be, eternally, anything less? 

"Make up your mind to become a saint," said St. Mary Mazzarello.

I'm taking another step, today, toward heroism. I am making up my mind.

Top painting: Domenico Ghirlandaio, Santo Stefano
Bottom painting: Helen Allingham, Harvest Moon  

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Singing in the City

I came across the following this morning. It's a brief reflection, scribbled in my journal in the year 2000.

I was spending time in a monastery - not hidden in the woods somewhere, but situated in the historic edges of large, busy city. As a retreatant, I stayed in the cloister. 

One of the nuns later apologized for my being housed in a cell overlooking the sidewalk (rather than the cloister garden). No need for regrets, said I. 

I was exactly where I needed to be.

"Chant, as we prayed this morning, curled around me. I was nestled, as a baby in its mother's gentle arms. Lilting voices lifted like the softest of lullabies, and I was stilled.  Now I sit in my cell, looking out the window...

The houses across the street 'look at this one,' and this one 'looks at them.' They share a narrow street, yet they are divided by a world, by an entire culture. How like a cloistered heart looking at the face of someone across a room, a street, a yard, out a car window, in a store, in the midst of a family gathering.

I watch the sky turn light outside my window. The city is waking as I write this. Cars, buses, planes, all move along their way for one more day. Birds chatter, unmindful of the ways of man, of the city of man that is this bustling metropolis, this powerful and mighty place of power among the nations of earth.

Perhaps I see contrast as much as anything as I sit here. Black branches stand in silhouette against a lightening sky. Cars rush by below me; silver, gray, maroon. Birds call out above me; silver, gray, maroon. 

Such an important city. Such human power in these houses and streets. And all the while, the sky stretches above all and is over all; unnoticed, for the most part.

The cloistered heart is a "city" sort of vision. We must learn to sing the songs of God in a land removed from Him. To sing the Magnificat even as we live the Pieta. Ours are gentle melodies in a land that has forgotten the song. Like birds calling from the treetops, like warblers who sing in the city of man, I must join the chorus.

I must sing, and I must allow God to do what He wishes with the song."

Painting: Paul Cornoyer, The Plaza After Rain

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What Makes a Monastery?

'It is monastic life which signifies a monastery, 
and the fact has no vice versa. 
The most 'correct' monastery building 
in the world would not be a monastery 
if monastic life did not pulse within it.'


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

He is Looking Upon Me

'Granting that we are always in the presence of God, 
yet it seems to me that those who pray are 
in His presence in a very different sense; 
for they, as it were, see that He is looking upon them, 
while others may go for days on end 
without even recollecting that God sees them.'

St. Teresa of Avila

Painting: Julian Falat

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? (a repost)

The following is a slightly edited re-post from eight months ago: 

Recently I read something touting a "politically correct" (but unmistakably warned against in Scripture) lifestyle as being something Jesus would applaud. 

I immediately thought:  "Oh, really?"  

Just who, I asked, is this Jesus of whom the writer is speaking?  It's definitely not the Jesus quoted and taught about in Scripture and 2,000 years of the Church.  The real Christ clearly taught against what the author was endorsing.

This is extremely important.  Nothing in our lives could be more important.  For those of us who want to respond to the world through the "grillwork" of God's will, a knowledge of the real Jesus is critical. 

If I am going to see the world through Scripture and the teachings of the Church, I must have a working knowledge of what these are.  I cannot make them up for myself.  And certainly I can't invent my own jesus, one who will approve of everything I do.. even sin.  The real Jesus loves me; He genuinely loves me.  He cares enough about me to correct my missteps.  

The real Jesus does not overlook the cliffs I'm blindly frolicking about on. He is not afraid of warning me about them lest He interrupt my fun.  Because He loves me, He wants to protect me from the enemy of my soul

"We can make the mistake of trying to make hard truths so palatable," writes Dan Burke at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction, "that we end up presenting half-truths or even worse, untruths (implied or actual).... Yes, we can and must say “come as you are”; but we must also proclaim that the God of Love who meets us where we are, loves us too much to leave us there.  He calls us to union with Him where we will find the Truth that sets us free to know and live an abundant life in Him."

How do I get to know the real Jesus?

Ah, we have such a gift in the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is clearly laid out and indexed.  In this treasured resource, I can find out what the Church actually teaches on a specific subject.  The Catechism is accessible, clear, and easy to understand. 

Most importantly, I get to know the Real Jesus proclaimed in Scripture. For those who aren't accustomed to reading the Bible, I suggest beginning with the Gospel of John.... reading straight through, taking it slowly and prayerfully (definitely prayerfully).  Matthew, Mark and Luke reveal more and more of Him. And in the epistles, I learn what St. Paul and the other writers teach about living totally (not just partly) for Christ. 

"When someone comes preaching another Jesus than the One we preached, or when you receive a different spirit than the one you have received, or a gospel other than the one you accepted, you seem to endure it quite well."  (2 Corinthians 11:4)

May such a thing never be said of us.

Painting:  Carl Heinrich Bloch, Jesus Tempted

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When God Dwells Within Me

'How can living surrounded by unfriendly hearts 
do me any harm when I enjoy full happiness within my soul? 
Or how can having kind hearts around me 
help me when I do not have God within me? 
When God dwells within me, who can harm me?'

St. Faustina, Diary 455

Painting: Samuel Melton Fisher, Flower Makers 1896

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Eight Steps to a Cloistered Heart

A person stepping into the physical enclosure must move forward. She does not become cloistered simply by standing outside the door looking in. She does not wait for someone to pick her up and carry her.

She walks to the enclosure door and steps inside.

If I am to be cloistered in heart, I must step as well. Not just once, but many times. I must step toward the cloister, then over the threshold, then ever more deeply into the cloister of God's will. I am to do this in every circumstance of my life.

Each step is a step away from self-will and toward the will  of God.

Perhaps I can look at some of the steps I have seen so far. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that what I'm sharing here is an adaptation of the 'steps' outlined in the book The Cloistered Heart (yes, there is a book; it can be found by clicking this line). The 'steps' were originally written in my journal, and at that time there were thirteen of them. Because I like to keep blog posts as short as possible, and because what I've 'seen so far' extends (now) twenty-two years beyond that first seeing, I am condensing and adapting this content.

Let's look at what eight 'condensed' steps might look like today; now that they've seen a bit more wear.....

1. Attraction.  My attraction is to God. I am drawn to God as a Person, to the one true God Who has revealed Himself to us in Scripture and in 2,000 years of authentic Church teaching. I am drawn to the Person of Jesus Christ. I want to know Him, love Him, serve Him. I want to live for Him, entirely.

2. Recognition.  I recognize the truth that I'm a sinner, that I fail. I recognize the fact that I cannot take one step toward God without His help. I recognize my need for His grace every day of my life.

3. Realization. I realize that living entirely for God, and thinking of myself as 'cloistered' in Him, is more than simply picturing myself enclosed with Jesus. It is making a specific decision to live within God's will. It is in this step that I realize that heart cloister carries a real price. Cloistered life is a life of real surrender, real death to self, allowing oneself to be made into a total yes to God. Am I willing to accept God's grace that I may pay such a price?

4. Admission. I admit that I do not, by nature, love the will of God. I do not, by nature, want to be 'enclosed' in it. I admit that I really want to be in control of my own life, that I may even feel I'm entitled to such control, that I am frightened to say yes to God unless I know in advance what He will ask of me. I may feel powerfully drawn to give God an unconditional yes, yet part of me keeps holding back.

5. Asking.  Having admitted that I do not, by nature, want to live 'enclosed' in the will of God, I ask for grace to say yes anyway. 

6. Choosing.  By an act of my will and and with the grace of God, I choose to surrender totally to Him and to live enclosed in His will. With this choice, I am 'stepping into the enclosure.'

7. Living.  I live for Jesus in the midst of the world. I learn what it means to view every circumstance through the 'grillwork' of God's will. I do not do this in my own power, but with the grace of God. This step is a kind of 'natural novitiate,' in which I learn to live more and more for God. I cannot do this without spending time, each day, with Jesus in prayer.

8. Shining.  Because my life is being lived in God's love, I find myself 'carrying the fire' of His love and truth into the lives I touch. I spread love by my actions, my words, my continued choices to live in God's will. These choices will be seen by others, and at times they may not be popular. But I have made my decision, and through the grace of God I want nothing other than to stick with it. I now wear the habit of a cloistered heart. 

'Fear not and do not stand in awe of what this people fears. Venerate the Lord, that is, Christ, in your hearts. Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully.' (1 Peter 3:14-16)


Paintings: Caspar David Friedrich (woman on stairs)
               Kovács, Stairs at Subiaco.1844

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup