Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Advent Window, Reopened

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

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

(read the rest by clicking this line)

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

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Advent Linkup.

Monday, November 24, 2014

In All Created Things

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

St. Teresa of Avila

Severin Roesen painting, digitally altered

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Holiday Heroics

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

It can also be a time for heroics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Hidden Staircase

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

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

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

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

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

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

What hope this quote from St. Francis gives me!  

'Little by little.' Step by step.

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

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


Painting: William McGregor Paxton 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Go Ahead! Courage!

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

St. Padre Pio

Painting: Charles Napier Hemy, Running for Home

Monday, November 10, 2014

These Heroic Stones

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

And it occurs to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Gradual Courage

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

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

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

After all, it takes courage to...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Singing in the City

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

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

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

I was exactly where I needed to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painting: Paul Cornoyer, The Plaza After Rain