Sunday, August 31, 2014

Keep That Altar in Your Hearts

I have an old book, a paperback whose crispy yellowed pages are held together by rubber bands. As far as I can tell, the title is now out of print. I found the story (a true one) riveting when I read it some years ago, so I typed out fragments of it.  I ran across one of these pages today, and immediately wanted to share something from it here.

The story is of a Sister Cecilia, who helped other Christians flee persecution in the second world war. 
Sister's convent had been torn apart, and these words were spoken by the priest during the last Mass in the chapel... 

'Don't lose faith in God... 
build your own altar in your heart,
an altar which no human hands can tear down as they have torn these paintings down, 
which nobody can destroy as this altar has been destroyed.  
Keep that altar in your hearts.'   
(from The Deliverance of Sister Cecilia as told to William Brinkley, Signet/New American Library, 1954)

This link tells more about the title.  And, thanks to a kind commenter, this link might help anyone interested in doing so to find a copy of the book.

In the meantime, I hope to carry that last sentence with me. No matter where we are, ever; or what happens around us, ever: 

We can keep that altar in our hearts. 

Photo on this post by Connie Wells

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Divine Office: Together We Pray

I used to have little appreciation for the Liturgy of the Hours. I considered it ‘too structured,’ ‘too formal,’ and a mere recitation of words other people had written. It could be spoken while the speaker’s mind wandered anywhere and everywhere (I decided)… so wouldn’t such a practice just lead to dry, lifeless prayer?

I could not have been more wrong.  

The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the ‘Divine Office,’ is an official group of prayers used by priests and Religious. It is a primary part of the daily schedules of monks and nuns.  

The Divine Office is the same for people throughout the Church, throughout the world. On the very same day, Father O’Neill in Dublin and a group of monks in Sydney and a monastery of nuns in Toledo are praying the exact same words.

And I can pray with them, if I wish.

As I wrote here a few weeks ago, the Liturgy of the Hours helps my prayer stay on track. In it, scripture is right before me; thus I have 'grillwork' for my day.  I am praying with the whole Church, right along with Father O'Neill and the monks in Sydney and the Toledo nuns. And, if I'm tempted to bypass prayer, I get help to carry me past my (laziness, in my case).

Do I, personally, pray the entirety of the Liturgy of the Hours?  No.  But My goal is to work toward that. I'm making a commitment to at least pray part of it every day.  I hope to pray more and more of it, to 'baby step' my way into staying solidly on its tracks throughout the day.

In my haphazard life (and my very nature is 'haphazard'), I definitely need some of that structure I once dreaded.  Otherwise, I wind up wasting entire days.

I find that those 'words others have written' often turn out to be cries and groanings from my very heart.

Does my mind wander while I pray in this way?  My mind wanders no matter how I pray.  The Divine Office helps call the drifting mind back.

Does the Liturgy of the Hours lead me to the dry, lifeless prayer I feared?  No.  Sometimes I feel dry and lifeless, yes, but again:  that would happen no matter how I pray.  The printed words help me stay focused.

In some key ways, the Liturgy of the hours is a lens that helps me zoom right in on the presence and reality of God.

Where can we find the Liturgy of the Hours? 

A WONDERFUL resource is Divine  I cannot recommend this highly enough.  It is free, it has all of the hours available for reading or for listening to, and it's a marvelous tool for those of us who have trouble finding our way through the books themselves.  It's all right there for us.  The one and four volume breviaries are available for purchase at this site as well.

And for an excellent explanation of this kind of prayer, check out Daria Sockey's blog Coffee and Canticles for 'About the Liturgy of the Hours. '  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

It is Faith

'No one
is a martyr 
for a conclusion; 
No one 
is a martyr 
for an opinion; 
It is faith 
that makes martyrs.' 

Blessed John Henry Newman 

Painting: Gustave Dore

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Itty Bitty Martyrs, Teeny Tiny Saints

I was raised, in Catholic school, on stories of martyrs. Those gilded, shimmering beings who (I just knew) had floated through their lives on a plane above the rest of us, smiling at their hangmen and singing for joy in prison cells.

It did not occur to me that the wounds of such heroes might actually hurt. Nor that anyone called to such glory would not feel instantly glorious. Oh no. I was sure these shining ones were granted special dispensations from pain.

I even brought them, sometimes, into my young world of pretend.  Crossing arms across my chest, gazing wistfully at the sky with head tilted back, I glided across my front yard confident that I looked exactly like the painting on a holy card. 'Goodbye world... so long, family.... farewell, neighbors playing cowboys....  I bequeath to you the cars in my sandbox and my swing hung on a tree and even my black cocker spaniel.  As for me, I'm off to dance amid the flames.....'   

Fast forward many years. As a grownup in today's world, I recognize the truth that martyrdom hurts.  That prison cells are far from comfortable.  That people in flames don't feel so much like dancing. 

I also recognize something else.  I have finally gotten the message that sainthood isn't only for some.  It is for every single one of us. And martyrdom?  Well, that's not a word we're tossing around lightly these days.

I have been thinking a lot, again, of the littlest martyrdoms.  The ones we face day after day.  I know I just posted about this last time, but it is staying on my mind.  It sticks with me like a persistent call to prayer, like the insistent clang of a monastery bell.

'Offer that pain for this intention'
'When you're insulted for Me, choose to count it joy'
'Pray for My Church'
'Accept this cross as prayer for those who are suffering'
'Die to your own will in this matter'
'Intercede for an end to abortion'
'Pray for Godliness in the world'
'Do not participate in this evil'
'Don't react to that person in anger'
'No one is standing up for Me.  Will you?'
'The world is in trouble.'

My little deaths to self are, when compared to true martyrdom, oh so tiny. My steps toward sainthood are wobbly and small.

But I am failing God if I don't take those steps.  I'm failing Him when I don't cooperate with His call.

You and I?  We may feel that in God's plans we are teeny.

But we have the call to be heroes.  We have the call to be saints.

Painting at top of post:  Scherrer, St. Joan departure, in US public domain due to age
Joan the Woman movie poster in public domain

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Monday, August 18, 2014

I Shall be Telling This with a Gulp

I type the following with a gulp.

'Come, my sweetest Jesus, that I may now be inseparably united to Thee in time and eternity:  welcome ropes, hurdles, gibbets, knives, and butchery; welcome for the love of Jesus, my Savior.' (St. Henry Morse)

I was okay until the ropes.

I can pray the first line of that prayer with all my heart.  I'm able to sing it, rejoice in it, even make it into an aspiration to repeat throughout the day.

But I gulp when I read about the ropes, and the knives, and the butchery.  But then, I'm not in the position of St. Henry, who apparently said these words while facing martyrdom in 1645.

I've been thinking about the sorts of things I'm willing (and not willing) to face if I am going to truly follow Christ.  Things I sometimes encounter in the midst of my ordinary, regular, day-to-day life.

Knives (I've realized) do not have to be physical to hurt us.  Anyone who has ever been sliced by words knows the truth of this.  The butchery of gossip?  Of being mocked or belittled?  Of being verbally attacked for standing up for the Gospel?  It can be brutal.  To remain true to Jesus when we know we'll be cut down for loving and obeying Him - well, that takes grace. 

Thankfully, He provides all the grace we need, just when we need it.  All we must do is accept, and trust, and hand ourselves over to Him (not to 'them,' but to Him) when we are presented with opportunities to do so.

I am convinced that we can reach out for His grace and stand strong for Jesus Christ.  Even in the midst of our gulps. 

'When the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say.  You yourselves will not be the speakers; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.'  (Matthew 10:19-20)

Painting:  Stefano Novo, The Gossips, in US public domain due to age {{PD-1923}}


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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Unlearning Love of the World

'The true Christian is ever dying while he lives... he has no work but making his peace with God, and preparing for the judgement.... 

Day by day he unlearns the love of this world and the desire of its praise; he can bear to belong to the nameless family of God, and to seem to the world strange in it and out of place, for so he is.  

And when Christ comes at last, blessed indeed will be his lot.  He has joined himself from the first to the conquering side; he has risked the present against the future, preferring the chance of eternity to the certainty of time...

His reward will be but beginning, when that of the children of this world is come to an end.'

Cardinal John Henry Newman

Painting:  Anton Laupheimer Schreibender, Mönch; in US public domain due to age

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Of Maximilian, Martyrdom, Migraines and Moods

I write this on the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who was killed at Auschwitz in 1941.  Just this morning I came across a striking article about this hero of the faith.  “The Flowers in Cell 21" is definitely worth a read (just click this line to find it), and has drawn me to spend much of today pondering this saint, in his death cell, wasting away for the sake of Christ. 

I have been thinking of others, too; of martyrs down through the ages.  I've thought about people still standing for Christ today, refusing to renounce Him now.    

And I've thought about me.  

All day I have battled a headache, a "common" migraine.  The kind that makes a person feel as if a bruised brain is rattling around inside a battered skull.  Which sounds rather dramatic, I know, especially since I've been able to function.  I was even able to get to Mass, where I sat in something of a....  

Well.  Something of a "mood."  

I know I get to blame at least some of that mood on the headache.  I know migraines can cause sufferers to feel sluggish and out of sorts.   But honestly.   Did the music have to be so loud, and so "bland?"   Why couldn't we have soaring, worshipful, awe inspiring, reverent music?  And silence!  Oh yes, silence after Communion.  On this headachy day, that would have been oh, so greatly appreciated.  And while I was at it, I thought about how distracted I get by modern church buildings that have "Mass in the round."  While such architecture might suit the preferences of others, the distraction of people laughing across the room on this headachy day did not suit me. 

See what I mean by "something of a mood?"  A genuine, poor-me, distracted-by-the-round-sounds, bland-music-battered mood.  

Again I thought about Maximilian.  During his days of absolute starvation, he didn't get to look at anyone.  He did not have other Christians who would glance across the room at him and smile.  His room was a tiny, dreadful cell.  He would have been overjoyed with a round auditorium.  Especially one in which the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was being offered, and where people had the amazing privilege of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ! 

And then I thought about us.  Those of us who, regardless of surroundings and song selections, have the freedom to gather to worship God, and to speak the Name of Jesus, and to actually receive Him day after day.

And then I thought about them.  These.  Our brothers and sister in Christ who cannot proclaim themselves Christian, at this very moment, without risk.  People who are trying to get their families to freedom, people whose situations are so grim that a migraine every single day for the rest of their lives would be a welcome exchange.

And then I thought about me.  The person who groans about headaches and grumbles aloud at a misbehaving computer (did I just admit that?) and whines about the heat.

There are people in agony for the sake of Christ, people whose very lives are at stake.  And I huff about a slight rise in the temperature.

And so, I think about Our Lord.  I think about the fact that I can join my fellow Christians throughout the world in asking Him to pour His graces upon His suffering servants.  I can pray for them, night and day.  I can pray for peace.  I can offer headaches and tummy aches for those who are willing to bear trials rather than turn away from Him.

I can remember my heroic brothers and sisters when I'm tempted to downplay my own commitment to Christ in the face of those who might mock me or think less of me for such allegiance.  If God can offer grace in life-and-death situations (as He certainly does), He can give grace when I feel stung by a neighbor, a co-worker, a friend. 

He gives grace to enable us to offer up aches and pains, and moments of sadness, and times when our commitment to Jesus Christ is questioned or misunderstood by others.  We can offer these things in prayer, in solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters.

We can even offer computer snags.  And something of a mood. 

Painting of woman by Edgar Degas
Other Painting is 'The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer'

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Hide Me

Over these last weeks, I am appreciating more than ever the Refuge we have available to us in this torn, aching, wounded world.  If we don't realize that parts of our planet are in great distress just now, we have been living under a rock.

And whether or not we know of the distress around, we may be sure of this:  we can live on and under and within THE Rock.  Jesus is our Rock, our Refuge.  He is our Hiding Place, our fortress, our one true cloister.

I see the truth of this when I consider so many saints gone before us... martyrs who much preferred death to the possibility of turning away from Christ.  What grace they received - exactly when they needed it.  This gives me hope.

In Acts 16, for instance, we read of Paul and Silas thrown into jail after having been given many lashes.  Their feet were chained to a stake.  Surely they were miserable.  I can imagine myself there, whining and grumbling and feeling sorry for myself.   But were Paul and Silas wailing, angry, groaning?  No.  They were praying and singing hymns to God.

And consider St. Ignatius of Antioch, as he was on his way to be fed to lions.  "Leave me to the beasts," he wrote, "that through them I may be accounted worthy of God.  I am the wheat of God, and by the teeth of the beasts I shall be ground, so that I may be found the pure bread of God.  Greatly provoke the wild beasts so that they may be my grave and leave nothing of my body, so that I won't be a burden on anyone.  Then I will truly be a disciple of Jesus Christ."    

What grace!  The same grace that was given to St. Stephen as he was being stoned.   The same grace (we can believe it) that is offered to people undergoing persecution for Christ today. 

I see Stephen as a perfect patron for those of us who strive to view life "through the grille."   He fearlessly spoke the truth of God, and those who listened were stung to the heart (Acts 7:54).  And then, as we know, they stoned him (Acts 6 and 7).

If  anyone ever "viewed and responded to circumstances 'through the grille,'" it was Stephen.  Even as his persecutors were preparing to kill him, he boldly exclaimed "'Look!... I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God's right hand."

I am sure this acute view of reality buffered the saint's agony as stones were hurled at him.  "As he was being stoned, he could be heard praying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'  He fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'"  (Acts 7:54, 59, 60) 

"The cloistered heart."  I wrote some years ago, "is the heart of David dancing before the ark; of Mesach, Shadrach and Abednego in the fiery furnace; of Paul in prison, Daniel in the lions’ den, John on Patmos, Peter in chains.  The world is not safe from evil – even the body isn’t safe from harm – but within the cloistered heart there is refuge.  The Lord is with me, He is within my cloister.  My heart, as long as He is in it, is safe."  (from the book The Cloistered Heart). 

I must remember this.  In the madness all around, I must remember....

Within the cloistered heart there is refuge.  The Lord is with me.  

My heart, as long as He is in it, is safe. 

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

After the Fatigue

'The metaphor of the cell 
brings to mind the idea 
of a retreat
in which the soul can renew its strength 
after the fatigue of the active life, 
where it can leave aside visible things 
to think about those that are invisible, 
and where it finally finds peace, 
far from external distractions…'

J.M. Perrin OP., 
from Catherine of Siena, 
Newman Press, 1965

Thursday, August 7, 2014

While Walking With Men

'Within yourself you have 
made a room... a secluded place.  
You have built it by prayer…. 
You live in the marketplace
and carry the poustinia within you.  
That is your vocation… 
The Lord is calling us 
to stand still before him 
while walking with men.' 
(Catherine de Hueck Doherty,  
Poustinia, Ave Maria Press, 1975)

'May the God who 

is all love be your 
unchanging dwelling place, 
your cell, 
and your cloister 
in the midst of the world.  
(Elizabeth of the Trinity) 

Painting: Hans Baluschek, 
believed to be in US public domain due to age

To continue reading about 'our cell,' click this line

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Our Soul, the Hermit

"Whenever you pray, go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private…” (Matthew 6:6)

"Brother Body is our cell, and our soul is the hermit living indoors in the cell, in order to pray to God and meditate on him.” (St. Francis of Assisi) 

"Christ is held by the mind knowing Him and the heart loving Him...  what is this room except the inner secret of your own person?  Keep this inner room clean, so that when it is pure, unstained by sin, your spiritual home may stand as a priestly temple with the Holy Spirit dwelling in it.  One who seeks and entreats Christ is never abandoned, but visited by Him frequently, for He stays always with us."  (St. Ambrose) 

"May my life be a continual prayer, a long act of love. May nothing distract me from You, neither noise nor diversions. O my Master, I would so love to live with You in silence. But what I love above all is to do Your will, and since You want me still to remain in the world, I submit with all my heart for love of You. I offer you the cell of my heart.." (Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity) 

"In the midst of all the occupations of each day, see to it that you do not become too absorbed in material things.  Keep a tight grasp of Christ's hand.  Do not panic, but look to Christ.' (St. Francis de Sales)

"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)

Painting of man:  Maximilien Luce, in US public domain due to age 
Painting of town: Leo Gestel Gezich, in US public domain due to age

To continue reading about 'our cell,' click this line

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Where is My Cell?

St. Catherine of Siena, who did not live in a monastery, “formed a cell in her own heart and there she remained continually united with God even when busiest, contemplating Him and speaking familiarly with Him.  Thus she attained to a stable, uninterrupted union with her Lord.” (Spiritual Diary, Daughters of St. Paul, 1990).
"I set up a little cell in my heart, where I always kept company with Jesus."  (St. Faustina) 

"Our Lord frequently told me that I should keep a secluded place for Him in my heart, where He would teach me to love Him."  (St. Margaret Mary)

"I offer You the cell of my heart; may it be Your little Bethany. Come rest there…”  (Elizabeth of the Trinity)

“Always remember… to retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others.  This mental solitude cannot be violated by the many people who surround you since they are not standing around your heart but only around your body.  Your heart remains alone in the presence of God.” (St. Francis de Sales)    

Painting of girl:  Am Morgen, 1840, detail
Painting of Bus: George William Joy, 1895

To continue reading about 'our cell,' click this line

Monday, August 4, 2014

Their Cells

The cell is the individual room of a monk or nun.  This is where he or she prays, reads, rests and sleeps. 

"Our cells are plain, sparsely furnished mostly with donated or homemade furniture and absent of superfluities," writes a Passionist nun at In the Shadow of His Wings. "This gives them an austere beauty and a visual peace. It is the outward embodiment of the inner cell we live in while in the state of God’s abundant grace. I must admit though, sometimes I have so many books on my desk that I can’t find the desk!  I have a little prayer altar where I keep a holy image, a candle and a notebook of prayer intentions, some holy relics and a blessed palm.  We find God in everything – by Faith. We live him, breathe him, love him – by Faith. Especially in the solitude of the cell."  (the remainder of this description can be found by clicking here)

To see what morning is like in one kind of monastic cell (different from some others, in that Carthusians do not go to Chapel for morning prayer together) click on the following link:

The Cell of a Carthusian Nun

As usual, we might find ourselves asking the question:  what does this have to do with me?  After all, I am in the midst of the world, involved in family life.

This, we will look at in our next post.

Painting:  Cesare Laurenti,  in US public domain due to age
Photo by N Shuman 

To read about our 'cells' in the world, click this line


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Tracks of the Saints

Following are some "tracks" I like to follow as I journey through each day.....

"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)

'Lord, I offer and consecrate to You this morning all that I am and have: my senses, my thoughts,  my affections, my desires, my pleasures, my inclinations, my liberty.  In a word, I place my whole body and soul in Your hands.'  (St. Alphonsus de Ligori)

"My God, I give You this day.  I offer You, now, all of the good I shall do - and I promise to accept, for love of You, all of the difficulty that I shall meet.  Help me to conduct myself during this day in a manner pleasing to You."  (St. Francis de Sales)

"Always remember… to retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others.  This mental solitude cannot be violated by the many people who surround you since they are not standing around your heart but only around your body.  Your heart remains alone in the presence of God.” (St. Francis de Sales).

"Come, O God of my heart, gather together my scattered mental powers and fix them upon Yourself."  (St. Gertrude)

"Throughout the long hours I adore You, oh living Bread, amidst the great drought in my soul.  O Jesus, pure Love, I do not need consolations; I am nourished by Your will."  (St. Faustina, Diary #195)

"O my Jesus, I love You, and I want to worship You with my very weakness, submitting myself entirely to Your holy will."  (St. Faustina, Diary #782)

"I recall that I received most light during adoration.... During that time, I came to know myself and God more profoundly."  (St. Faustina, Diary #147) 

"You aren't the only one to be distracted from the presence of God.  I understand completely.  Our minds are so flighty.  But remember that our God-given will governs all of our strength."  (Brother Lawrence)

"It isn't necessary to be too verbose in prayer, because lengthy prayers encourage wandering thoughts.  Simply present yourself to God as if you were a poor man knocking on the door of a rich man, and fix your attention on His presence.  If your mind wanders at times, don't be upset, because being upset will only distract you more.  Allow your will to recall your attention gently to God.  Such perseverance will please Him. (Brother Lawrence)

"When it’s God Who is speaking.. the proper way to behave is to imitate someone who has an irresistible curiosity and who listens at keyholes.  You must listen to everything God says at the keyhole of your heart."  (St. John Vianney)

"Do not be surprised at having distractions or at being cold and weary at prayer, as these are the effects of the sensitive and emotional part of our being and of the heart, over which we have little control." (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) 

"Accustom yourself by degrees to worship Him.  Beg His grace, offer Him your heart from time to time in the midst of your busyness, even every moment if you can.  Do not always scrupulously confine yourself to certain rules, or particular forms of devotion, but act with a general confidence in GOD, with love and humility."  (Brother Lawrence)

“We can make our heart a chapel where we can go anytime and talk to Him…. so why not begin?” (Brother Lawrence)

Why not, indeed.... 

To continue aboard the 'prayer train,' click this line


Friday, August 1, 2014

Scripture Says: Stay on the Prayer Track

'At every opportunity
pray in the Spirit,
using prayers and petitions
of every sort.
Pray constantly
and attentively
for all in the holy company.'
(Ephesians 6:18)

'Pray perseveringly,
be attentive to prayer
and pray
in a spirit of thanksgiving.'
(Colossians 4:2)

'Rejoice always,
never cease praying,
render constant thanks;
such is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.' (1 Thessalonians 5:16-28)

This post is part of our new "adventure'

Painting:  Hans Baluschek, in US public domain due to age 

To continue aboard the 'prayer train,' click this line