Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Staying on Track

What about my 'prayer train?' (we may be asking after yesterday's post).  I don't live in a monastery.  No one rings a bell that, in essence, gives me permission to drop everything and take half an hour for prayer in the middle of the day.  I live out here where families need feeding, babies need diapering, and bosses want reports in by twelve o'clock sharp.

Those in monasteries can usually pray at the same times.  But 'out here,' everyone is going in a hundred different directions at once.

So what about me?  If I want a foundation of prayer to be the basis of my life, how do I stay on track?

In his book The Fulfillment of All Desire, Ralph Martin defines prayer as 'at root, simply paying attention to God.'  (p. 121).

Oh, I do love this.  

So:  I begin my day by paying attention to God.  Usually it's uttering a brief spontaneous sentence or two.

Ideally I can then find time, later, to sit down with Scripture and give Our Lord my undivided attention.  I am finding the Liturgy of the Hours to be a great help with this.  I also find that all too often I come to this practice tired, distracted, and having fought (or going in while still fighting) the temptation to 'put it off.'  Oh, I wish I didn't have to admit that!  But it's simply the truth, and you know what?  I've also learned that when I forge on past the distractions, when I carry on no matter how tired I may be, I wind up with a sense that God is pleased.  I also have some pleasant surprises at times - inspirations I could never have had otherwise.

Do I pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours every day?  No.  But if I try to pray at least one psalm from it, sometime during the day and with my full attention, usually I wind up praying longer ... and then the next time, longer still.

I also continue to cultivate the habit of making aspirations - the short prayers we can offer to God in our hearts, no matter where we are or what we're doing.  'Jesus, I trust in You.'  'Father, I adore You.'  'Lord, I give You my heart.'

Because I don't live in a physical monastery, I cannot expect to adhere to the regular by-the-bell prayer times of those who do.  God does not expect this.  He expects me to live the vocation He has given me.  In that vocation, however, He does ask that I 'pay attention to Him.'

With His help, I can get past the hurdles and do so.

With His help, I am able to stay on track.

Painting at top of post: Hans Baluschek Großstadtbahnhof, in US public domain due to age

Photo of tracks in public domain



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Monday, July 28, 2014

Prayer Train

Monastic life is scheduled.  We all realize this, and (if we think about it) we know why.  Anything other than a tight routine would make no sense in a monastery.  Lack of order in such a setting would result in haphazard, chaotic, unproductive days.

Prayer - the most important item on the agenda and the reason for a monastic way of life - is the backbone of the schedule.  It, of all daily activities, is a non-negotiable.

It could even be said that prayer forms the 'tracks' on which the entire monastic train rides. 

Perhaps the nuns, or monks, can be thought of as passengers in the train.  Each monastic community is like a car, linked to all the others, on the same track and in fact praying the same Liturgy of the Hours.  Life goes on inside the cars as the train chugs on its journey Homeward.  There are times for dining, sleeping, working, relaxing - but the train would be useless if it went off track.  It would go nowhere.

This analogy (fresh out of the box this minute) can, I think, help me.  For oh, I do struggle with routine.  I need it, I hunger for it; in some ways I am desperate for it.  Yet I'm no good at finding it for myself.  When my children were young, I had something of a ready-made schedule in place.  But even then, making time for prayer was a struggle. 

For me, the Liturgy of the Hours is becoming a solid, sure track.  It is a prayer template, a guide, a way that leads me back and back and back to God throughout the day.

When it comes right down to it, you and I are on the same train as those in monastic communities.  We're being led by God in the same direction... homeward.  We are just in a different car. 

The following links give us glimpses into the daily schedules of several monasteries:  

Carmelite Nuns
Passionist Nuns   
Visitation Nuns
Divine Office of Carmelite Monks


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Saturday, July 26, 2014


'Rejoice in the Lord always!
I say it again,  Rejoice!'

Philippians 4:4

Painting:  Mary Fairchild MacMonnies, The Breeze; in US public domain due to age

To return to the 'Monastic Adventure in Sequence' post, click here


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Our Lighter Side

When monks or nuns gather for recreation, are their conversations exactly like those of people "in the world?"

I doubt it.  Monastics are pursuing the common goal of living totally for God.  I cannot imagine them having to work too hard to keep their talk from drifting toward immoral or mean spirited topics, because their minds are not centered on such things. 
It is different, isn't it, out here in "the world?"  Conversations we encounter often meander into less than Godly territory.  In can be tough not to find ourselves swept along, like a piece of driftwood bobbing in a muddy river. 

I have reflected upon possible differences between the chatter of a monastic recreation and the talk engaged in by, say, co-workers gathered for lunch.

In a group of individuals who are bent upon serving God with every attitude and word, are we likely to hear, for instance:

Suggestive humor?
Language laced with "4 letter words?"
Using the Name of the Lord in vain?
Prayer requests that include sordid details?  
Mocking people, whether those persons are present in the gathering or not?   
Criticism of one another?  
Snapping at others?
Putting others down? 

It is something to think about.  Is it okay to have fun?  Sure.  

May we laugh?  Oh, I hope so!  Or I am personally in big trouble.

But there are ways, and there are ways.  

While I cannot change the conversations of those around me, I can choose how I personally participate.  

For me, thinking of nuns at Recreation helps me keep watch on my ways.

To continue with a look into 'recreation,' click this line

Photos in this post in US public domain

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Lighter Side

“From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.” (attributed to St. Teresa of Avila)

In his book The Holy Rule, Dom Hubert Van Zeller speaks of the importance of recreation for a monastic community. "The dispensation from the normal state of silence was originally granted to monks not because silence was found to be a bore but because recreation was found to be a good.  By mixing with one another and enjoying one another's conversation, monks came to have a better understanding of the family life, of the mystical body..." (Van Zeller, The Holy Rule, Sheed and Ward, NY, 1958, pp. 239-240)

Does this have anything at all to do with those of us who live in the world?  After all: "out here," recreation can consume our lives before we realize such a thing is happening.  Does that mean we dare not laugh, play, enjoy our families, visit our friends?  Of course not.

This is something we'll look into in our next post.

In the meantime, the following links might open for us just a little window into the lighter side of cloistered life....

The Great Pumpkin Adventure

Christmas pictures (whatever the season, these hats are worth seeing!)

"What would happen if we hid what little sense of humor we had? Let each of us humbly use this to cheer others."  (St. Teresa of Avila)

Painting:  Alessandro Sani, In der Klosterbibliothek

Photo of nuns in public domain 

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Into Your Hands, My Abbess

A particularly tender moment in a nun's profession is when she pronounces vows with her hands in those of Mother Superior.  "My heart was full of joy," wrote one such Sister, "as I pronounced these words from the vow formula, '...I vow to God into your hands Reverend Mother to live my whole life in obedience, without property, and in chastity.'" (Sister Mary Immaculata) 

"I vow into your hands...."

I read these words and immediately think of the total consecration to Mary according to St. Louis de Montfort:  "I, (name)_____, a faithless sinner, renew and ratify today in thy hands the vows of my Baptism..."

In whose hands are these baptismal vows being renewed and ratified?  Into those of the Blessed Mother. 

"I vow into your hands...."

"When first under Francis’ (de Sales) direction, Jane de Chantal, then a widow with four small children… took the Virgin Mary as the Abbess of the cloister of her own heart." (from Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal, Letters of Spiritual Direction by Thibert, Wright and Power, 1988, p. 41) 

"I vow into your hands...."

The abbess of a monastery is in every way a mother.  She leads those in her community; she nurtures their spiritual growth and oversees the care of their temporal needs.  She teaches, guides, counsels, prays, comforts, serves, loves, corrects, soothes…

We who wish to live cloistered in heart, subjected as we are to the world and its distractions, must have an abbess who truly cares about our personal stresses and trials.  We need an abbess who can help us live in the midst of the world and not be of it.  Ours must be a Mother who can nurture us, care for our lives of "enclosure," and show us what it means to say and become a total yes to God.

"Mary said a total yes to God.  Thus she lived enclosure in His will fully.  She embraced His will so totally that He became enfleshed in her.  She listened to Him more completely than any human ever has or will.  Sinless, she never stepped outside her enclosure.  She yielded fully to God’s will, abandoning herself utterly to God.  All her plans for her life were put aside in favor of God’s.  Mary carried Jesus within her as a baby and she gave Him to the world - thus she is the perfect cloistered heart.  Mary was also a married woman. Yes, she was a physical virgin, and she was a spiritual virgin as well. Was she, who is the spouse of the Holy Spirit, ‘married’ to God’s will?  Certainly if anyone ever was so, it was she.  Yet Mary never lived in a monastery.  She did not spend her days only in contemplative prayer; she spent them working to care for her family.  She lived in the world..." (from The Cloistered Heart (book) by N Shuman, 1996)

For a look at the moment of hands-in-hands profession, click on the following links.  In each, there is at least one photo that beautifully captures the scene.

A Visitation Profession

A Poor Clare Profession

Another Poor Clare Profession

"‘Behold thy Mother’ (John 19:26).  By these words, Mary, by reason of the love she bore them, became the Mother, not only of John, but of all men." (St. Bernadine of Siena)

"Honor, venerate and respect with special love the holy and gracious Virgin Mary who, being the Mother of Christ our Brother, is also in truth our very mother.  Let us then have recourse to her, and as her little children cast ourselves into her bosom with perfect confidence; at all times and on all occasions let us invoke her maternal love."  (St. Francis de Sales). 

"God could have given us the Redeemer of the human race and the Founder of the Faith in another way than through the Virgin, but since Divine Providence has been pleased that we should have the Man-God through Mary, who conceived Him by the Holy Ghost and bore Him in her womb, it only remains for us to receive Christ from the hands of Mary." (St. Pius X)

A Prayer:  Blessed Mother Mary, your "yes" was the door through which our Savior entered the world as Man, and so I thank you for that yes.  I ask your help that I, too, might say yes to all that God asks of me.  May I be given grace to do whatever He tells me.  May I be given grace to utter magnificats of praise in all of the circumstances of my life.  I ask you to teach and counsel me, to comfort and correct me, to lead me ever closer to your Son. 

Pray for me, Heavenly Mother.

Into your hands, I entrust my commitment to God.

Painting by Georges de La Tour

To return to the 'Monastic Adventure in Sequence' post, click here 


Friday, July 18, 2014

By Deed of Gift

The thing that draws me most about monasticism is its absolute totality.  The person entering such a life gives ALL. 

As I've written before, a potential postulant does not stick her head inside the enclosure and leave her arms and legs dangling outside.  It just won't work.

Yet how often do I give God "only so much," holding little corners of my life in reserve for myself?

Absolute totality is a process.  It's a process even for those in the physical monastery, for while they've pulled their bodies inside, surely parts of their hearts linger for awhile outside the walls. 

"Choose this day whom you will serve."  (Joshua 24:15)

How I have wished I could just step over a threshold, dividing world from cloister, and be done with complacency and compromise forever.  I am not so naïve as to think it’s that simple, certainly. 

But I would like to make, in one moment of time, at least a concrete beginning.  A consecration of self to God.  And so I pray: 

'O God.... I ask You to forgive my carelessness, my irreverence, my infidelity.  Gladly I accept this great vocation, this high honour, this immeasurable dignity, to be Your temple, Your altar, Your house, Your home. Joyfully I consecrate to You my body, with all its members and all its senses, my hands and feet, my eyes and ears and tongue, its powers of seeing and hearing and speaking, my impulses and instincts, and appetite and desires.  I make them over to You, by deed of gift; to be absolutely and forever Yours, to be employed always in Your service, never to be used against Your will.  O God, take this body of mine, consecrate it, let it never be defiled by sin.   Let it never be employed in the service of Your enemy, the devil!  Let it never become the abode of evil, nor be used against the best interests of any of Your children!'  (from "Listening to the Indwelling Presence," compiled by a Religious, Pellegrini, Australia, 1940, pp. 24-26)

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Painting at top of post:  Rostislav Felitsin

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Their Moments of Yes

The ceremony of a person entering consecrated life is (I find) beyond the reach of mortal words.

I dare not touch it with description. 

Instead, I will allow those who have made such commitments to show you their moments of yes.

I hope we will all
do ourselves a favor,
and click on the links below.....

Click on lines to view:
Profession Ceremony

Entering Carmel

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Photo at top of post by Connie Wells, of a Sister signing vows (digitally altered with  permission)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Our Call

God calls some people to give themselves fully to Him in Religious life. 

But what does that have to do with me?  

God called me to marriage, blessed me with children and grandchildren, and has much for me to do right out here in the midst of the world. 

So - as far as a total gift of self to God, does this mean I'm off the hook?

Oh, I should certainly hope not.   A total gift of self of God is one 'hook' I want to be on; it's a source of unspeakable blessings, it is a 'brass ring' on the ride of life.  I would hate to miss out on it.  And God, in His goodness, would hate for me to miss out on it too.

With great love, He calls you - and He calls me.  Those who embrace Religious life have felt tugs so strong they just couldn't ignore them. 

Have we not felt God's tugs as well? 

Are we not called to a life of total (not just partial, but absolutely total) commitment to Him?

I provide the following as just a tiny bit of evidence of our call...... 

"I beg you, through the mercy of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship.  'Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.' " Romans 12:2

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

"I am the Good Shepherd.  I know My sheep and My sheep know Me, in the same way that the Father knows Me and I know the Father; for these sheep I will give my life."  (John 10:14-15)

"The grace of God has appeared, offering salvation to all men.  It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires, and live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age as we await our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of the great God and of our Savior Jesus Christ."  (Titus 2:11-13)

"Be intent on things above rather than on things of earth.  After all, you have died! Your life is hidden now with Christ in God.  When Christ our life appears, you shall appear with Him in glory.  Put to death whatever in your nature is rooted in earth:  fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires, and that lust which is called idolatry....  What you have done is put aside your old self with its past deeds and put on a new man, one who grows in knowledge as he is formed anew in the image of his Creator."   (Colossians 3:2-10)

"You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Men do not light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket.  They set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your Heavenly Father."  (Matthew 5:14-16)

“Do not lay up for yourselves an earthly treasure.  Moths and rust corrode; thieves break in and steal. Make it your practice instead to store up heavenly treasure, which neither moths nor rust corrode nor thieves break in and steal.  Remember, wherever your treasure is, there your heart is also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

"Out of love, place yourselves at one another's service."  (Galatians 5:13)

"May I never boast of anything but the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ!  Through it, the world has been crucified to me and I to the world."  (Galatians 6:14)

"I will instruct you and show you the way you should walk; I will counsel you, keeping My eye on you."  (Psalm 32:8)

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Their Vocation

A religious habit, as we read several days ago, is a sign of an inward consecration.

Without this consecration, I could wear every sort of wimple and every length of veil, and still I would not be a nun.

God called me to a different vocation, and He has given me grace to respond to that one.  Is there anything I can learn, however, from looking at the call to religious life?   How does that particular call come, and how does a person respond?

The following stories are ones I have found inspiring.  I hope they will touch you as well.

"The love of God is the strongest driving force on earth. Thousands upon hundreds of thousands have given up their lives simply because they loved Him so much that breath and heartbeat slipped into the inconsequential by comparison.  Hundreds upon thousands of young girls have walked into cloisters and never walked out of them because their youth and liberty were the very least to give the One they loved so much."  (Mother Mary Francis PCC, A Right to be Merry,  Click here for more about this book)

Links to (beautiful) personal stories by individuals who have answered a call to cloistered life:

A Rose Transplanted
Totally Yours, Jesus   
Prom Queen to Cloistered Nun

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Painting at top of post:  Olga Boznanska, 1890,in US public domain due age

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Habit

'From this day forward, my heart wears a habit. 
Hidden from the prying eyes of men, my habit is for His eyes alone.'

Painting:  Hubert von Herkomer, au jardin

To return to the 'Monastic Adventure in Sequence' post, click here 


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

We're in the Habit

Imagine this.  A woman just entering monastic life prepares to don a habit for the first time.  She looks at the pieces of fabric folded neatly on a table before her.  Soft veil, long dress, layers of material she has waited to wear.  Her new habit smells like it was dried in the sun and pressed with just a hint of starch.  It carries the scent of the wind.

She picks up the dress and slips it on, sliding it down over the stained orange jumper she wore through the enclosure door.  She lifts the veil onto her head, covering a tattered woolen hat.  The veil snags on her mismatched earrings, but never mind.  She’ll get used to all of this, in time.

Certainly the scene I've just described is ridiculous.  But let us consider this....“Clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12).  I look at these and other virtues and find myself desiring to “wear” them.  Yet if I make deliberate choices to boast as I pretend to be humble, or if I'm cruel even as I write of mercy, I am simply hiding one kind of clothing under another.  I’m applying a layer of veneer.  I am in need of a habit exchange.

Habits are actions acquired over a period of time, with repetition.  

I ask myself:  would I like to cast off lifelong habits of self-seeking in order to let God clothe me in the habit of seeking His will? 

Am I willing to turn in my habit of laziness in exchange for diligence in prayer?  

For me it remains a constant struggle, and I take heart in knowing I am not the only person to have faced it.  “I cannot even understand my own actions,” wrote the apostle Paul.  “I do not do what I want to do but what I hate… what a wretched man I am!  Who can deliver me from this body under the power of death?  All praise to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 8:15-25) 

I pray to cast off my threadbare, tattered vices and see them as the worthless rags they are.  I want to outgrow them, and to - through prayer and practice – develop habits of virtue.

I pray to be clothed 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)


all paintings on this post in US public domain due to age

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Monday, July 7, 2014

They're in the Habit

Speaking as a layperson who has never had the opportunity to wear one, I offer my humble perspective on the habit.  Which is:  I personally find it to be a striking witness.  

It seems an external thing, and of course it is.  But a habit speaks volumes to the world around.  "I have found God to be worth the gift of my whole life," it tells me. "Nothing on earth is as important as He." 

What does a habit mean to the person who actually wears one?  For that perspective, I turn to people who are privileged to do so.   The following are only tiny excerpts; I strongly encourage you to click on the links to read these very fine articles in their entirety.   

From "The Holy Habit" (Carmelite Monks)
"The Carmelite monk, like a soldier, is clothed in the armor of the habit as he bravely does battle for God and for souls...." (see the full page by clicking here)

From "Living the Life Part II," by Sister M. Emmanuel VHM  
"I believe I can say without exaggeration, that whenever any one of us Sisters goes out into the 'world,' someone will inevitably comment on our habit....  The lovingness of the Sisters is perceivable to even a casual observer.  But the Sisters are not this way because they wear a habit.  They wear a habit (an outward sign of simplicity and consecration and a reminder of their vows of poverty and chastity) because they are this way.  They are this way because they are trying with all sincerity to follow Christ in their vocations as Visitandines.... When someone shows us deference in some way, we know that is not towards us... No, they honor something else, something greater.... ' (see the full article by clicking here)         

From "The Habit"  (Dominican Sisters)
"My religious habit is an indelible sign of an inward consecration and makes of me a public witness, to all the world, of values transcending time." (Mother Marie William MacGregor)  (see the full article by clicking here)

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Through Thorns and Roses

'Oh!  Let us love perfectly this Divine Being, Who prepares us for so much sweetness in heaven.  Let us be all for Him; and let us journey on, night and day, through thorns and roses, to reach this heavenly Jerusalem.'       

St. Francis de Sales  

Friday, July 4, 2014

His Garden of Delights

'Let us make of our hearts a Garden of Delights, 
where our sweet Saviour may come to take His rest.'

St. Therese of Lisieux

Painting:  Max Liebermann, in US public domain due to age 

special thanks to Trish for sharing this quote in a comment 

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

My Watered Garden

"Prayer is to our soul what rain is to the soil.  Fertilize the soil ever so richly; it will remain barren unless fed by frequent rains."  (St. John Vianney)

"He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails."  (Isaiah 58:11)

"The more rain falls on the earth, the softer it makes it.  Similarly, Christ's holy Name gladdens the earth of our heart the more we call upon it."  (St. Hesychois)

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My Dry Garden

Monasteries are not drought-proof.  When skies close up and rains no longer soak the ground, monastery fields and gardens are no less subject to dryness than are any other plots of land. 

The monastery of the heart is not drought-proof, either.  Sometimes we feel as if our souls are barren, lifeless, parched.  There are days when our prayers seem to go nowhere, times when we feel that God Himself has left the universe to dry up and wither to dust. 

If we’ve ever felt this way, we are not alone.  “I could neither pray nor read,” wrote St. Teresa of Avila about one such experience, “but there I remained, for hours and hours together, uneasy in mind and afflicted in spirit on account of the weight of my trouble, and of the fear that perhaps after all I was being tricked by the devil, and wondering what in the world I could do for my relief.  Not a gleam of hope seemed to shine upon me from either earth or heaven; except just this: that in the midst of all my fears and dangers I never forgot how Our Lord must be seeing the weight of all I endured….”  

So:  we’re not alone in having such experiences.  But what do we do about them?

I have found that the saints help in this kind of challenge.   

"If you do nothing else the whole time of prayer than bring your heart back and put it beside Our Lord, although each time you do so it turns away from Him, your hour will be very well employed.” (St. Francis de Sales) 

“One single act done with aridity of spirit is worth more than many done with feelings of devotion.”  (St. Francis de Sales)  

"His will is, that entering into prayer, we should be prepared to suffer the pain of continual distractions, dryness and disgust, which may come upon us, and that we should remain as constant as if we had enjoyed much peace and consolation.  It is quite certain that our prayer will be none the less pleasing to God nor less useful to ourselves, for having been made with difficulty.” (St. Francis de Sales)