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

Friday, October 17, 2014

That Wilderness

'In the dwelling 
of my heart is 
that wilderness 
to which 
no creature 
has access.
You alone 
are King.'

St. Faustina

Painting: Helen Allingham,
in US public domain due to age

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I am Broken Too

From our guest-poster Trish:

"I'm sweeping my kitchen floor and my back is starting to ache a tad more than usual. I look at my broom and realize it could be my own reflection, staring up at me. 

I'm quite short for an adult, just 5 feet, and my old broom is even shorter; in fact, it's much shorter than the average broom. Have we both shrunk? Why yes, we have. It's easy to see that we've both become a little 'abbreviated' over the years. 

Been through a lot together and I'm very fond of this particular old broom-friend. It always does what I ask of it, in spite of all its obvious flaws and weaknesses, but it wasn't always so short nor so flawed. Once upon a time it was a proud and upright object that both my husband and I put to good use every day - until that one fateful afternoon! Hubby was merrily and quite vigorously sweeping along the dusty floor when we heard it.  A distinct and sickening 'snap,' and with it my proud broom was suddenly humbled in half.

'Well, that's the end of that! We'll have to get another one now,' I heard my husband say.

'"No.. it's okay.. I can still use it.'  I wasn't going to let a mere thing like that take my beloved old broom away from me! 

Hubby arrived home the next day, with a new broom.  

I continue to use my old one.

It means I have to bend down a bit more now; but still, there is no other broom I love more than this one and no other that cleans up half as well as it does.  Hubby finds it a bit embarrassing for anyone to know I use a broken broom. He thinks it should be tossed out - after all, it's broken - so why keep it when we have a new one to replace it with? 

Well, for one thing, it's a good hard straw broom and the new one is soft nylon. I like straw. And I like broken things. 

I'm sweeping my kitchen floor and my back is starting to ache a tad more than usual. ('O God, come to my aid; O Lord make haste to help me!')  

Help me to sweep without grumbling today. Help me to be grateful for dust and kitchen crumbs, and a few extra twinges. ('Lord, I offer these pains up for H, our dear friend who is battling cancer and who loves You so much!')  

Help me choose to do this monotonous housework with a light heart, even though I'd rather be reading a book or gardening! Help me to be careful not to put too much stress on my old broom today... and to remember this.. .I am broken too. So broken, You have to reach right down from Heaven itself to make any use of me. 

Help me remember how You love me, in spite of my obvious sins and failings; that You never give up on me or turn me away. You never want to replace me with anyone else.. with a new or better version. You just want... me. 

'Let him regard all the vessels of the monastery and all its substance, as if they were sacred vessels of the altar.'  Would St Benedict tell his cellarer to toss out a broken broom, just because it made the monk bend lower? I wonder...  
I am the cellarer in my monastery. 

I keep all the broken brooms.  

Oh yes, it's true... I live in a monastery. I am a 'monk'. My inner monastery is the Abbey of my heart.  The Holy Trinity is my community there, and the Will of God is my Rule. Wherever I am, my inner Abbey is with me. Whatever I do, I do within its grounds. I am never 'away' from it, no matter how far I travel or how long it takes to get home. 

And the community of my inner Abbey, the three Persons of the Trinity, always go with me... and I with Them. We come together each day for prayer... for the work we do together... and for sitting together in silence.  We are heart-monastics, companions, confidantes, family within Family. 

When I am weak, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are there to uphold me. 
When I am suffering, They are there to console me.  
When I am rejoicing, They celebrate with me.  
When I am wrong, They guide me back to the right path. 
When I am sick with sin, They heal me. 
When I am in my most unlovable state.... The Father, Son and Holy Spirit love me still! 

Oh, who would want to live without such a Community as this!?  

How I became a heart-monastic is a mystery, even to me. It was nothing I did, nothing I planned, nothing I foresaw happening. I just know that one day something 'snapped' within me and I fell so low that only God could reach down and lift me up. And where He touched me now burns. Flames on His altar, consuming all that would sever the embrace of our souls. 

I am broken... and sweet is the breaking within me. I am hidden... and how lovely is my enclosure. I am silent...and how loud my heart beats for Him. I am alone... and always with Him. I am fiat given. I am not worthy.  

HE... is all that is!"

This post was written by Trish, who blogs at 'Monastic Housewife.'  

Paintings by:    (top) William Paxton (cropped)
                      (middle) Vilhelm-Hammershoi
                      (broom alone) Pierre August Renoir (detail)
                      (bottom) Norwid


This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup

Saturday, October 11, 2014

And Sweet is the Breaking Within Me

One of the graces of Catholic blogging is discovering others of like mind and heart. A woman I've been blessed to meet in this way will be guest-posting here next time. I'm letting you know this in advance, because I don't think you'll want to miss this one!

Please join us on Monday to hear from our friend Trish.

Here is a sample from that post..... 

"How I became a heart-monastic is a mystery, even to me. It was nothing I did, nothing I planned, nothing I foresaw happening. I just know that one day something 'snapped' within me and I fell so low that only God could reach down and lift me up. And where He touched me now burns. Flames on His altar, consuming all that would sever the embrace of our souls. I am broken... and sweet is the breaking within me. I am hidden... and how lovely is my enclosure...." (Trish)

Painting: Jean-François Portaels, Flower Seller 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

To Face the World

Cloister of the heart is a place of refuge. It is a place inviolate, where I can remain with Jesus in a traffic jam, a restaurant, a mall.  "The heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live," states the Catechism." ... the heart is the place 'to which I withdraw.'  The heart is our hidden center,  beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2563) 

Sometimes I want to hide deep within this refuge, in a quiet corner far from news reports, rumors of wars, political distresses, moral confusion, fears of illness, celebrations of sin, and input from a world going mad. Sometimes I simply want to close the blinds on windows and grilles.

But Our Lord has not called me to live inside a physical enclosure. In our cloistered heart analogy, the "symbol" is grillwork... not brick walls. 

"The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the just man runs into it and is safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

What is my strong tower? Not stonework. That would be much too fragile. 

Stones are subject to crumbling. The Name of the Lord is not.  

I am not called to flee from the world. I'm called to face it, day after day after day, but I do not have to do so unaided. I am called to relate to the world through the will of God. I can pray for the world - and deal with every situation and every person I encounter or even hear of - through the "grillwork" of the will of God.  I can run to Our Lord and I can remain in Him.  

As I cling to Jesus, He gives me all I need to face the world.

"We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his decree." (Romans 8:28)

"I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)

"God keeps his promise. He will not let you be tested beyond your strength.  Along with the test he will give you a way out of it so that you may be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)
'Even though I walk through a dark valley, I fear no evil, for You are at my side.' (Psalm 23:4)

'Be firm and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go.' (Joshua 1:9)

'We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed; full of doubts, we never despair.  We are persecuted but never abandoned; we are struck down but never destroyed.' (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

'The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is my life's refuge; of whom should I be afraid?' (Psalm 27:1)

'You are my shelter; from distress you keep me.  With safety, You ring me around.' (Psalm 32:7)

'God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Thus we do not fear, though the earth be shaken and the mountains quake to the depths of the sea; though its waters rage and foam and mountains totter at its surging. The Lord of hosts is with us.  Our stronghold is the God of Jacob.' (Psalm 46:2-4)

'Though my flesh and heart fail, God is the rock of my heart; my portion forever.' (Psalm 73:26)

'Our help is in the Name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.' (Psalm 124:8)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Grille Works Both Ways

I realized something today.

The grille works both ways.

When we speak of seeing and responding to every person and every situation through the "grillwork of the will of God," we're not talking about hiding behind a one-way mirror. Ours is usually hidden "grillwork," yes, and we can love God with all our hearts without calling a lot of attention to that fact.

But the grille works both ways. Not only do we see others through it; they can see us "through it" as well. Oh, they don't see our faces criss-crossed, and we generally look just like everyone else TO everyone else.  But if we're interacting with the world "through the will of God," sooner or later our point of view is going to show.

My realization occurred when I saw (again) the symbol now being used by some as a sign of solidarity with persecuted Christians. I considered what it would take to boldly proclaim "I am a follower of Jesus Christ" when facing an executioner.  I will not deny Him, I cannot follow other gods, I live for Jesus, I am firmly and forever Christian... could I make such proclamations? I like to think so.

But wait. Do I, in my comfortable everyday life, ever downplay or hide the fact that I'm Christian? Do I sometimes, with some people, feel embarrassed about my love of God / stance on life issues / stance on moral issues? Do I fear ridicule, teasing, arguments, being called a holy roller or a holier-than-thou?  Am I ever hesitant to wear a cross, or to hang a crucifix on the wall of my home? Am I concerned that others will think I'm not politically correct?

A woman entering a fully cloistered monastery gets past these issues. She has to. She will interact with family and friends through the grille for the rest of her life, and she'll always be recognized (instantly) as a follower of Jesus. Those meeting her will not forget that she's a Christian; they'll be reminded every time they see her through the bars. She has decided to live for God and to allow others to see her doing so.

When I stand up for Scripture and authentic Church teaching, I'm allowing myself to be seen as a dedicated follower of Christ. I am standing in genuine solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world. I am saying, in effect, that Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and I'm willing to let the whole wide world know that. I choose to live inside the grillwork of the will of God.

The grille works both ways.  

Photo: Klausurgitter der Visitandinnen, in US public domain due to age. Digitally altered for color.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

To See or Not to See. The Choice is Mine.

I was sixteen when I learned that trees had individual leaves; at least, ones visible from more than a few feet away. I literally gasped in wonder when I put on my first pair of glasses and watched wide blobs of green become defined, distinct, individual shapes that waved and fluttered in the wind.  Having been nearsighted since childhood, I'd grown up unaware that the world was anything other than one huge, smeary blur.  

In an instant my faulty perception changed, and suddenly houses had windows, teachers had faces, and almost everyone I knew had strands of hair. My whole way of seeing was altered. I was able to see things as they really were - not merely as I’d imagined them.

In spite of such sudden clarity, however, I did not wear my new glasses regularly.  Having glimpsed the marvels of clocks with numbers and billboards with words, I usually found myself choosing the same old blurry life I’d become accustomed to over the years.  Why?

Mostly because I was concerned with “what people would think.” Allowing myself to be seen in spectacles?  It wasn't a pleasant prospect. I let vanity and self-concern keep me from interacting with life as it really was.

In addition, some part of me was simply comfortable with the same old blur. “The blur” was all I'd known. To realize that things were not actually as I’d perceived them was an adjustment. 

Besides: if I saw the time on a clock, I would have no excuse if I were late for class. If I could read what Mr. Miller wrote on the blackboard, my conscience might nudge me to tackle an Algebra problem. In a very real way, I didn't want to handle too much reality, too fast. 

Learning to see as God wants us to see is, in effect, like putting on a pair of glasses. The lenses of Scripture and Church teaching bring into focus the reality of things as they are.  They correct misconceptions we might have held, perhaps for so many years that we hadn't realized they even were misconceptions.  They challenge us to "not worry"… "love your enemies"…. "sin no more"...."do not lay up for yourselves an earthly treasure"……

I find myself faced with a choice as I write this. Will I put on the lenses God has prescribed for me..... or not? Maybe I'm willing to look at a few things through them, but what about some of those "tougher" issues. 

Am I so comfortable with the same old blurry way of looking at things that I find Our Lord’s words threatening?  

Am I so concerned about “what people think” that I'm reluctant to be seen as someone who takes Scripture and Church teaching seriously?

I can look at life as the secular world tells me to, or I can use the prescription God has clearly written out for me. 

Rx: "Grille Eyes."  The corrective lenses of Scripture and the teachings of the Church.  

To see or not to see. The choice is mine.

Georgios Jakobides painting, digitally altered

Friday, October 3, 2014

Today, We Need the Grille

Anyone who has seen the news lately knows that we live in uncertain times. God is our refuge and safety (we remind ourselves), and if we dwell in Him and in His will we are in the safest place of all.

Yet our feelings may be questioning us on this matter.  Fear can easily disarm us.  We might find ourselves dealing with worry, depression, anxiety, confusion, distress. In the presence of unsettling circumstances, it can be tough to find what we've referred to as "the view through the grille."

"I am sometimes afraid to look at the world outside and even at the circumstances in my own life.... there is so much darkness to be found. But if I were to stand in a physical cloister filled with light, would I be afraid to look 'through the grille' for fear that darkness would flood through the grille and turn my light into dark? No, for when darkness and light encounter one another, light is always the winner! Darkness never floods into the light. Instead, light flows into darkness and changes at least a portion of it into light." (from book The Cloistered Heart)

I ask myself:  what situations are uppermost in my mind just now? Is anything worrying or troubling me?  If so, perhaps particular scriptures can be helpful, especially if I think of those as "bars of my grille."  A concordance is (for me) pretty indispensible in finding particular passages, and in fact I just went searching for an online version. This link, which I have not really used but have just discovered, seems promising:  It offers various Protestant Bible translations, but there is also a Douay-Rheims.

Thank you also to the commenter who suggested this link:  This one looks quite helpful, so I came back to include it here.

In addition, I hope to share (in the following days) some "bars of the grille" that have helped me as I've have faced particular situations. I have been busy gathering those lately, so if you hear hammering echoing through these hallways, that might just be me... nailing together a few panels of grille....

(for an explanation of what we mean by "the grille," click this line)