Friday, February 28, 2014

Fighting the Fruit Shortage

"If we don't spend time with God in prayer, then we go empty-handed into the marketplace." 

A friend said these words to me over a year ago, and I continue to ponder the truth of them.  How often (I ask myself) do I dash out before taking time to be with God?  How often do I think I'm "too busy" to spend a few minutes with Scripture, too busy to let God feed me with His Word?

All too often I rush, malnourished and empty, into the marketplace - bringing nothing with me but my own flawed, weak human nature.

If I spend even a bit of time with God, however, I give the fruit of His Spirit an opportunity to grow.  I allow Him to strengthen me, causing my life to overflow with goodness that will eventually nourish not just me, but also those around.  

It takes time for fruit to grow.  It takes patience to sit through those dark silent moments of prayer when it seems nothing is happening.  

"The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness, and chastity."  (Galatians 6:22)  

I do not have to look far to see that these fruits of the Spirit are in scarce supply in our workplaces and malls and media and schools and towns.  

There is a fruit shortage right before us, right here today.  And it's severe.

I can do something about it, about the shortage, but I can't do it alone.  I cannot manufacture fruit.  I can only come to God, reading His Word and letting it become living and active in me (Hebrews 4:12), allowing Him time and space to cause His fruit to grow.

Then I shall go into the marketplace, no longer empty-handed.  

I can carry to others what God has planted in prayer.   


Painting: Emil Barbarini, Gemüsemarkt in einer Altstadt

Comments are welcome in the Parlor

This post is an edited version of one from our 2012 archives   


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ordinary Actions, Extraordinary Love

'While not neglecting other duties,
these seek above all things
to learn to know Jesus...
and endeavour to live always
in union with Him
Who is ever in the
chapel of their hearts....

This is, indeed, the perfect practice of devotion
to the Sacred Heart
beating in the Tabernacle on the Altar
and in the living tabernacle of our hearts -

thus did the Saints love!  Many
of these friends of God
never did very wonderful things
during their years on earth,
but they loved much
and did ordinary things
with extraordinary love.

St. Rita was a cook;
St. Benedict Joseph Labre, a beggar...
and an endless list of others who did no more than the ordinary actions that go to make up the warp and woof of our daily lives. Yet they scaled the heights of sanctity by the ladder of loving aspirations of prayer.'

(from "Listening to the Indwelling Presence," compiled by a Religious, Pellegrini, Australia, 1940, pp. 44-45)

Painting:  Edgar Degas, Woman Ironing


Monday, February 24, 2014

Each Sin Has Its Door

'Each sin has its door of entrance.
Bolt it tight!
Just outside,
the wild beast crouches
in the night.
Pin the bolt with prayer;
God will fix it there.'

(from "Listening to the Indwelling Presence,"
compiled by a Religious, Pellegrini, Australia, 1940, p.191)

Painting:  Théo Van Rysselberghe


Friday, February 21, 2014

That Winter Garden

'A severe winter kills and destroys all the plants and flowers in the country... 
Sin, that sad and terrible winter of the soul, destroys all the holy works it finds there... 

 'But when sin is driven out, and the grace of Divine Love returns to the soul, 
not only the new affections which the return of this holy springtime produces
bud forth into rich merits and blessings,

but the works faded 
and withered under the harshness
of the bygone winter of sin -
as if freed from their mortal enemy -
resume their strength and vigour 
and, as if raised from death, 
flourish anew and are fruitful 
in merits for eternal life.'

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Habit

Over the years, I've heard numerous discussions about habits.  Speaking as a layperson who has never had the opportunity to wear one, I offer my humble perspective.  Which is:  I personally find a habit to be a striking witness.  

It seems an external thing, and of course it is.  But a habit speaks volumes to the world around.  And I wonder: could it even speak to those who wear it day after day?  After all, we humans are affected by symbols, probably at levels beyond mere words.

What does a habit say to me when I see it?  "I have found God to be worth the gift of my whole life," it tells me. "Nothing on earth is as important as He."

I think back to once when I'd been visiting a convent.  I was escorted to the street by a Sister wearing the same graceful habit her foundress wore in the 1600s.  As I got into my car, a gentleman passed by on the sidewalk and saw Sister across the fence.  He spoke to her, then stopped to talk.  Sister graciously stood to chat with this man (someone she had apparently never met), and as I left I heard the man say he was a former Catholic.  This gentleman seemed to be launching into a particularly important discussion - perhaps one which would affect him long after he walked on. Yet the meeting would have not taken place had this woman not been clearly identifiable as “Sister.” 

As a cloistered heart, I wear - and speak - the language of habits.  We've talked of this before in these pages.  To see our original post on this, click here.

In the meantime, today I'm checking on the condition of my habits.  

Am I in the habit of responding to persons and situations with love, kindness, generosity?  
Am I in the habit of carrying the love of Christ to everyone I meet?  Am I in the habit of spending time with God in prayer?  

May I be clothed, and seen, in the habits of a cloistered heart.  

"You must lay aside your former way of life, and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire, and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth.” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

"Because you are God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another, forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.  Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect."  (Colossians 3:12-14) 

“Do you see how little it takes to become a saint?  All that is necessary is acquiring the habit of wanting to do the will of God at all times.” (St. Vincent de Paul)

“Clothe me, O eternal Truth, clothe me with yourself, that I may run my mortal course with true obedience and the light of holy faith…” (St. Catherine of Siena)

“I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.” (Isaiah 61:10)

"You must put on the armor of God if you are to resist on the evil day; do all that your duty requires, and hold your ground.   Stand fast, with the truth as the belt around your waist, justice as your breastplate, and zeal to propagate the gospel of peace as your footgear.  In all circumstances, hold  faith up before you as your shield, it will help you extinguish the fiery darts of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, the word of God."  (Ephesians 6:13-17)
Painting of nun with roses:  Herbert James Draper, US public domain

Painting of family:  James Tissot, US public domain

This is a re-post from our archives, slightly edited
Text not in quotes is © 2014 Nancy Shuman  All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Bells

A monastery bell is ironically consistent about one thing.  It always calls for change.  Time to stop one activity and begin another.  The sections of a monastic day are spoken into being by the bells.   

Part of me hungers for such bells.  I find myself craving the insistent rhythms of their voices.  Predictable, familiar, reliable, steady bells that would insure my prayer and rest; bells that would regulate and balance the pieces of my life. 

"Just as soon as we are familiar with one set of daily bells ringing," wrote one of you in the Parlor, "another set replaces them."  

Don't we know the truth of this.  Seasons come and go, bringing school bells and wake-up alarms, church bells and wedding bells, baby cries and phones and stovetop buzzers.  They change with every passing year.

Predictable, familiar, reliable, steady?  Not really.  Out here in the midst of the world, it's not that way.

Bells of "things that must be done" ring out; day by day and year by year they ring.   

They change.  Consistently, they change.  

To answer the legitimate call of God, I must hear, and I must respond.  I am called to do as God asks, in every season of my life.  

Another friend commenting in the "Parlor" had this to say awhile ago:  "If it's 9:00 and I want to pray the mid-morning prayer and as soon as I sit down my daughter needs me for something, then it's God's will that I not pray at that time or stop praying when half finished or whatever.  I may want/need that time because I crave the peace and rest or I desire to worship God.  However, God may want my obedience to my vocation as a wife and mom right now over my prayer.   I figure that if I'm able to pray certain hours of the day, then that's what God wants.   If my family needs me for something else at that time, then that's what I'm supposed to be doing.  I don't try to make up for it or squeeze it in later.   I just move on and try again at the next scheduled prayer time...."

These are words from one who has learned to live in harmony with the bells.   

(Portions of this post were taken from our archives)

Text not in quotes

Painting of bell:  Bernhard Stange Das Abendläuten, in US public domain due to age

Painting of family:  Von Bornin perhe 


Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Holy Valentine

It's a grand time for written expressions of love.  Letters, notes, valentines bursting with verse and humor and pop-up-song.  I love every one of them.  On Valentine's Day, give me hearts, give me roses, give me rhyme. 

As a preteen, collecting valentines to line up on my dresser, I would count the cards and sort them and arrange.  Valentines from friends were put where I could see them readily; ones from boys I liked were given pride of place.  It was not unheard of for a girl to receive two or more valentines from the same young man:  a definite sign of not-so-secret love. 

"The Bible is a letter from Almighty God to His creatures,"  wrote Pope St. Gregory.

What a missive!  The length of it, the poetry, the repeated declarations of total and absolute LOVE. 

"I have loved you with an everlasting love... I am constant in My affection for you."  (Jeremiah 31:3)

"Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, My love shall never leave you."  (Isaiah 54:10)

"My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.  No one shall snatch them out of my hand."  (John 10:27-28) 

I can turn page after page of Scripture and find such love.  Love that would suffer and die for me, declaring itself over and over and over - a definite sign of not at all secret Love.

This is Love that deserves first place in my heart.  This Valentine's day, I shall (anew) accept it.  And I pray for grace to give love in return.

Through prayer, through acts of charity, through aspirations of love and praise, I hope to give Our Lord a number of "valentines"... repeated declarations of a not-so-secret love.  

This was originally posted on my blog The Breadbox Letters, 2012

Samuel Melton Fisher painting

Monday, February 10, 2014

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Recently I read something touting a "politically correct" (but 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.  He doesn't overlook the cliffs I'm blindly frolicking about on; He's not afraid of warning me about them lest He interrupt my fun.  He is upset when I (often unknowingly)  entertain temptations coming 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?

I open Scripture and read about Him.

For those who aren't accustomed to doing this, I suggest beginning with the Gospel of John.... reading straight through, taking it slowly and prayerfully (definitely prayerfully).

And however does a layperson get to know the teachings of the church?  Ah, we have such a gift in the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is clearly laid out and indexed.  I don't read it straight through - but when I want to look up what the Church teaches on a subject, I check the index.  It is accessible, clear, and easy to understand.  

"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 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

My Hallway

I have been on retreat, several times, in monasteries.  I loved being in my tiny cell, alone with God yet aware of the silent presence of others.  I was with God, others were with God - and we were all connected.  A wide hall linked us together.

As one who wants to live for God in the cell of my heart, I am grateful for every one who is doing likewise.  I may not know each person in every other “cell,” but I can stop and remind myself that they… that you… are there. 

Ours is the hallway of the Church.  Ours is the hallway of the Body of Christ.  My heart cell is part of a multitude of “cells,” part of the vast and ageless Communion of Saints. 

Our hallway is not limited by geographical location.  It is wide and vast and stretches beyond the ages, connecting us to all in the Communion of Saints in ways we can scarcely grasp.

How do I, in everyday life, enter the hallway?  Certainly I do so by my participation in the Sacraments.  Am I also involved in the life of my parish, my diocese?  Am I part of a prayer group or Bible study?  Do I volunteer my time to help the poor, the aged, the pre-born?  Maybe I share faith through the Internet.  Perhaps I homeschool, or teach CCD.  Hopefully I share God's love freely with my family and friends.  Even if I can't get out and about (perhaps due to physical limitations), I can "enter the hallway" by praying for others, maybe offering trials and sufferings as prayer.  

There is a door into the hallway for everyone.

I pray that each of us will find, and turn, the knob. 

“The children of the world are all separated one from another because their hearts are in different places; but the children of God, having their heart where their treasure is, and all having only one treasure which is the same God, are consequently always joined and united together.”  (St. Francis de Sales)

"If St. Paul exhorts us to pray for one another, and we gladly think it right to ask every poor man to pray for us, should we think it evil to ask the holy saints in heaven to do the same?"  (St. Thomas More)

"If the bond of your communion is love, devotion, and Christian perfection, then your friendship will be precious indeed:  precious because it has its origin in God, because it is maintained in God, and because it will endure forever in Him."  (St. Francis de Sales)

"I shall be able to do much more for you in heaven than I can now while I am on earth."  (St. Padre Pio)

"Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.... Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.  Let them look up, and see no longer me, but only Jesus! ... Let me preach You without preaching, not by my words, but by my example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for You."  (John Henry Cardinal Newman)

"Do not think of the poor as only those with no money.  Look at each person's needs.  Perhaps you are well off in something when someone else is in need of just that."  (St. Augustine)

Top painting (monks in hallway):  Otto Knille

Text not in quotes


Monday, February 3, 2014

My Vast Dwelling

"The novice promises not just to obey orders but to 'live IN obedience.'  The phrase has a splendid ring to it, as though she were throwing up imposing castle walls around her whole life.  And that is precisely what she does.  She makes her whole future existence a kind of vast dwelling place through which she can walk in perfect security always." (Mother Mary Francis PCC, A Right to be Merry, 1956 edition, p. 99.  (This book is now published by Ignatius Press)

In the analogy of "the cloistered heart," I am invited to live within the boundaries of God's will as these are clearly defined for me in Scripture and in 2,000 years of authentic Church discernment.  I might find myself worrying that such boundaries will sap all joy and pleasure from my life.

The saints tell me otherwise. 

"Always remain quiet and calm in the shelter of God's will, under the mighty protection of the Most High."  (St. Paul of the Cross)

"Freed from the heavy burden of my own will, I may breathe freely under the light load of love…”  (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)

“The height of loving ecstasy is when our will rests not in its own contentment, but in God’s will.” (St. Francis de Sales)

Painting:  Edmund Blair Leighton, The Roses' Day, in US public domain due to copyright expiration

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Through Simeon's Eyes

"In honor of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.

Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.

The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.

The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world.  Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light.  Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness.  Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal. 

Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor.

Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.

By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel.

Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honor."

St. Sophronius, from the Liturgy of the Hours for Candlemas Day