Wednesday, December 31, 2014

How to Begin the Year

"The Church begins the year with the name of Jesus....

... Let us place this name on our lips and in our hearts."  - Dom Marmion

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Snapshots from a Backwards Blogger

"The Cloistered Heart," I wrote in 1996, "is prayer, a way of life, an experience. It is a heart learning to love God, a will vacillating between yielding to God and struggling against Him, it is encounter, it is poem....  I would like to tell you about this enclosure, this heart monasticism which has truly changed my life; yet I hope you will understand when I say I cannot tell you.  I can only show you 'snapshots' from my own journey into a cloister which I have found to be so beautiful that I never want to leave it again...." (from book The Cloistered Heart, Preface)

Thus it began. Or at least, thus began the preface, written to introduce a book that was taken from my 1993 magazine article that was taken from my journals begun in 1985. In other words, journal entries (i.e. "snapshots") were condensed into an article that was then expanded into a book that, years later, became the basis for a blog which you are now (heroically, since you've made it through this paragraph) reading.

Have I confused you yet? If not, just wait a minute. All our heads will be swimming if we manage to hang in there for this whole post.

The thing is: I blog backwards. Most people seem more likely to "journal" into a blog, then (maybe) a few of them organize some of the content into a book, in time. I've done the exact opposite. I journaled in quiet prayer, or while I rode with my husband in his boat, or when I awoke in the middle of the night. How such random, deeply personal thoughts made the trek from journals to magazine(s) to book(s) to becoming "organized" in a blog is a story in itself. In the meantime, I am growing as these concepts are arranged, here, more and more into categories.  I hope you find the organization (such as it is) helpful as well.

"Snapshots," however, are still being taken. I still indulge in an occasional journal ramble, a working-through-in-writing-scribble of how I can surrender to God in this situation, and that one. In other words; more personal things.

If you will indulge me, I'd like to share some fresh new "snapshots" right here once in awhile. After all, I've been practicing the "view through the grille" for such a long time now. Too bad I still struggle to see it clearly. I'd like to share some of the struggles, now and then.  Maybe once a week or so, in the midst of our regular posts?

As for photography itself, well - that has changed a lot since 1996, hasn't it?  It's all so instant now.  Perhaps cloistered heart journaling could be a bit like that?

Let's see what a new batch of snapshots just might unfold.

The Backwards Blogger, Reggolb Sdrawkcab

Painting: William Holman Hunt

Monday, December 29, 2014

Hope for the New Year

'Never fear 
that your past faults 
and infidelities 
will prevent you reaching 
the degree of union 
that God intends for you; 
in an instant 
He can repair all that.'

Dom Marmion

Painting: Richard Edward Miller, The Shadow, 
in US public domain due to age

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Of Christmas

'All days from the measure of this bright day gain blessings.

All the feasts from the stores of this feast have their fairness and their ornaments...

Great is this day above all days, for in it came forth mercy to sinners.

A medicine chest is this great day, because on it shone forth the Medicine of Life to the wounded.

A treasure of helpful graces is this day, because on it, Light gleamed forth on our blindness.'

                                                                                                           St. Ephraem the Syrian

Painting: Le Main Brothers, Nativity with the Torch

Saturday, December 20, 2014

As in a Mist

'Teach us, O Mother, to carry Him as you did, completely oblivious of material things, with the eyes of your soul fixed unceasingly upon Jesus within you, contemplating and adoring Him in continual wonder.

'You passed in the midst of created things as in a dream, seeing everything that was not Jesus as though in a mist, while He shone and scintillated in your soul as resplendent as the sun, and encompassed your heart and enlightened your mind.

'Teach us to act on our little excursions in this world and indeed on our whole journey through life so that we may walk as you did, on your travels and every day, seeing external things as though they were plunged in deep darkness, with our eyes fixed only on your Jesus Who illuminates our souls like a flash of fire.'

Charles de Foucauld

Painting: Herman Richir, in US public domain due to age

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Burn This Straw and Change It

'My soul is poor and bare of virtues,
the straws of so many imperfections
will prick You and make You weep;
but O, my Lord, what can You expect?
This little is all I have.
I am touched by Your poverty...
Jesus, honor my soul with Your presence,
adorn it with Your graces.
Burn this straw
and change it into a soft couch
for Your most holy body.

'Jesus, I am here waiting for Your coming.
Wicked men have driven You out
and the wind is like ice.
Come into my heart.
I am poor, but I will warm You
as well as I can....

'I want to adore You,
to kiss You on the brow, O tiny Jesus,
to give myself to You once more, forever.
Come, my Jesus, delay no longer.
Come, be my Guest.'

St. Pope John XXIII

Painting:  Detail of Sheep in Manger, Charles Emile Jacque, digitally altered

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Advent Linkup

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dear Saint Nicholas,

My wish this year is not like what I’ve asked for before.  I'm not writing to ask for candy or trinkets.  This year I have but one wish:  I want to be a candle.

I want to stand tall and firm, carrying the Light of Christ even when winds and storms lash about me.  You see, good St. Nicholas, the world has grown terribly dark.  We talk of peace and sing of peace, yet rumors of wars swirl all around.  We’re busy and distracted, we have no time left over to pray.  We get confused about what is truth and what is not; we redefine sin and call it “choice” and “entertainment,” and there is more darkness around than I could tell you about.  In fact, there’s more darkness than I can even see.  It can be hard to peer into darkness, and I feel sometimes like a child at night who wants to cover her head with blankets and wait for morning light.  I need the light; the world needs the light.  So I want to be a candle.

Like a pillar of flame standing beside the Tabernacle in a monastery, lifting firelight fingers high in adoration, I want to offer praise to God.  Like a sanctuary light gently calling attention to the fact that Jesus is with us, I want to keep vigil by His side and call attention to Him.  I would like to flicker softly, as a gentle reminder of His presence, no matter where I may be.  So I want to be a candle.

I know I am asking a lot.  I know that in order for the Flame to increase, a candle must decrease.  A candle gives itself for the Fire; it gives its all.  That’s okay.  You see, I want to live my life for God.  I am not so good at the doing of this, but with the grace of God I’m getting better at the wanting.  

And I want to be a candle….

“The light came into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were wicked.  Everyone who practices evil hates the light; he does not come near it, for fear his deeds will be exposed.  But he who acts in truth comes into the light, to make clear that his deeds are done in God.” (John 3:19-21)

“The light shines on in darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

This is a republication of a post from our archives.


Top painting by Godfried Schalcken, detail
Animated candle in public domain, from Wikimedia

Monday, December 15, 2014

We Blush With Shame

'You, O eternal God... have come down from the great height of Your divinity to the mire of our humanity, because the lowliness of my intellect could neither understand nor behold such height. In order that my littleness might see Your greatness, You became a little child, concealing the greatness of Your Deity in the littleness of our humanity....

O blush with shame, blind creature, so exalted and honored by your God, not to know that God, in His inestimable charity, came down from the height of His infinite Deity to the lowliness of your humanity!'

St. Catherine of Siena

Painting: James Tissot, 
St. Joseph Seeks Lodging in Bethlehem

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gaudate Sunday

The Time 

To our e-mail subscribers: this post contains a video. As always, advertisements on videos are not chosen nor endorsed by me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Invited, Through a Back Door

'Mary is now with child, awaiting birth, and Joseph is full of expectancy as he enters the city of his own family. He searched for a place for the birth of him to whom heaven and earth belonged. 

'Could it be that the Creator would not find room in his own creation? Certainly, thought Joseph, there would be room in the village inn. There was room for the rich; there was room for those who were clothed in soft garments; there was room for everyone who had a tip to give to the innkeeper.

'But when finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest line of all will be: "There was no room in the inn." 

'No room in the inn, but there was room in the stable. 

'The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world's moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. 

'But there's no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is a place for outcasts, the ignored and the forgotten. 

'The world might have expected the Son of God to be born in an inn; a stable would certainly be the last place in the world where one would look for him. The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. 

'So the Son of God made man is invited to enter into his own world through a back door.'

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen 

Painting: Constable, Donkeys in the stable

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

That Wondrous Interruption

This time of year can bring both blessing and hassle.  Meditations, carols, the contagious wonder of wide-eyed children...  these unwrap great blessings and often great fun. 

For some of us, however, the activities of Christmas can feel like an intrusion.  Day to day life is more or less put on hold by an urgent need to shop and wrap and plan.  Chairs and tables are displaced by, of all things, a tree in the middle of our house.  There is no time to do ordinary things, as everyday life is seriously disrupted for weeks on end.  It can seem like a major interruption.

A few years ago, the truth of it hit me.  This is what Christmas has been since the instant of the Incarnation: an interruption.  Please stay with me here, because our first reaction to the word “interruption” could be negative.  But interruptions are often quite positive, and this Interruption was the most positive of them all. 

Think of it.  Mary was living a quiet, hidden life.  She was betrothed.  Then one day an angel appeared to her, and with that Holy Interruption Mary’s life was changed forever.  As was Joseph’s, as was yours, as was mine.

As we know, there was a Birth.  There were shepherds tending their flocks, and again an angel appeared.  A night of sheep-watching was interrupted.   

While most of the world went on unaware, a few men in the east noticed something out of the ordinary.  A sign in the sky.  Something signaling, to them, a wondrous Interruption – one so marvelous that they must drop any other plans they had and go in haste, and they must bring gifts.  These men were wise enough to know that somehow the world had changed, maybe even that the course of life on earth had been altered.

The change was so shattering that mankind took notice.  Calendars would later mark the divide.

God Himself had split the heavens.  

We now measure time by the before and after of that Grand Interruption, in effect saying that yes, we see.  We may not understand, really, but we recognize the wonder and the mystery of it.  God interrupted the cycle of sin and death by breaking into our world (John 3:16).  Jesus broke into the flesh of man, shattering hopelessness with His power and mercy.

With Jesus' arrival in the flesh, God interrupted our misery.  He opened to us the path to salvation.  

When I feel stressed by Christmas interruptions, I try to remember what I'm celebrating. Death was interrupted by Life. Despair was interrupted by Hope.

With that wondrous interruption, God tore through the fabric of time.

This is a slightly edited version of a post from our archives


Painting at top: John William Waterhouse, The Annunciation
Painting in middle: Blake, Ancient of Days

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Advent Linkup

Sunday, December 7, 2014

But Take Courage!

'The one peculiar and characteristic sin of the world is this:
that whereas God would have us live for the life to come, 
the world would make us live for this life.'
(John Henry Cardinal Newman)

'You will suffer in the world, but take courage!
I have overcome the world'
(words of Jesus in John 16:33)

Painting: José García Ramos, Leaving a Masqued Ball 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Necessary Winter

'In heaven it shall be all a springtime of beauty, 
all an autumn of enjoyment, all a summer of love. 
Winter there shall be none; 
but here winter is necessary for the exercise of abnegation 
and of the thousand beautiful little virtues 
which are practiced in the time of barrenness.' 

St. Francis de Sales

Painting: Jules Breton, Last Flowers

Friday, December 5, 2014

Are You Hurting? Let us Pray

It seems the world is obsessed with Christmas; so beautifully obsessed. As my friend RG pointed out to me years ago, this would never have been the case if Jesus had not come to us.

For some people, however, this is a painful time of year. A season to be gotten through, tackled, weathered like a storm. How can the rest of the world be rejoicing if someone I love is in the throes of a serious illness? How can I turn on a radio if I'm taking a chance on hearing my recently deceased father's favorite carol? Maybe my best friend or a beloved relative is off in a faraway land. While everyone else is celebrating, I just might burst into tears.

I suspect many of us have had such seasons, at one time or another, over the years. Times when we'd rather just skip the decorating and the ho-ho-hos and wait for a white blanket of January to settle the world back into its normal routine.

These words might seem strange to anyone who has never experienced loss. Depending upon our ages and states of life, we may be among those. However, if anyone reading this is grieving, in pain, depressed by the long dark nights of winter, or maybe just wishing the holidays would be over and gone - know that you are not alone.

In fact, you are so "not alone" that I'm going to ask a favor of everyone reading this.

Could we each take just a minute and offer a little prayer for anyone coming across these words who might be hurting?  If this post gets to a number of people, that could amount to quite a few prayers.

May God lift burdens, heal pains, comfort loneliness, and soothe hearts. 'We beseech You, Lord and Master, be our help and succor, save those among us who are in tribulations, have mercy on the lowly, lift up the fallen, show Yourself to the needy, heal the ungodly; convert the wanderers of Your people, feed the hungry, release our prisoners, raise up the weak, comfort the fainthearted, let all nations know You are God.'  (St. Clement of Rome)

'Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for You.' (1 Peter 5:7)

(this is an edited version of a post first published on this blog last year)

Painting: Lukjan Vasilievich Popov, In the Garden 1911


Thursday, December 4, 2014

As in a Palace of Splendor

'My heart is Your abode, O King of Eternal Glory. Rule in my heart and be Lord, as in a palace of splendor untold.' (St. Faustina, Diary 1231)

'Jesus, behold my heart which is for You a dwelling place to which no one else has entry.' (St. Faustina, Diary 1385)

'My goal is God... and my happiness is in accomplishing His will, and nothing in the world can disturb this happiness for me: no power, no force of any kind.' (St. Faustina, Diary 775)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Something Important Happened

Some lessons have stuck with me over the years. What I have called "the lesson of the lights" is one of those. 

Thanks to a friend, I think of this every Advent season. I share it now from our archives, with a bit of minor editing this time around.

Advent is only a few days old, and already Christmas decorations cover stores and windows and lawns. In Church we wait quietly, our spirits hushed, as light dawns slowly with the softness of sunrise. 

It is quite a different story out here... in the glittering, clashing, clattering clamor of the world.

I once spoke about this to my friend RG.  So much hubbub, and so soon!  Carols blaring, shoppers rushing... and so many lights.

RG looked at me with a wisdom born (I suspect) of having lived 25 years longer than I. "Did you ever think," he asked gently, "that every one of those lights is because Jesus came to us?"

Well, yeah, I said.  "But not everyone putting lights on their houses is doing it specifically to honor Jesus."  I was being very logical.  "Some may not even believe in Him." 

"Whether they believe in Him or not," said my friend, "they would not be putting up lights right now if Jesus had not come to the world." 

There would be no Christmas, no decorations, no special songs, no shoppers and gifters, no strings of lights on trees and houses, if Jesus had not come.

RG went on to say that when he saw Christmas lights, he thanked Jesus for coming to us.  I'm sure he seldom forgot this practice, for he was a man of prayer.  This holy man has now gone Home to God; he needs no more reminders. 

I, meanwhile, think every Christmas of his simple wisdom. 

"This would not be here if Jesus had not come."  The decorations, the cards, the lights - all shine forth the news that Something Really Important happened on this earth over 2000 years ago.

Something Important Happened, and we have not forgotten. 

Thanks be to God for the lesson of the lights.  


Monday, December 1, 2014

Enclosed in a Journey

I came across the following today. It is a brief reflection, scribbled when the idea of 'the cloistered heart' was still quite new.

I do not enter the enclosure of God's will in a once-for-all step. I don't bid farewell to the world and twirl merrily off into Dreamland. I choose the will of God, I implore His grace to keep me 'enclosed,' and then:  

I embark upon a journey.

There are hallways, hills, tunnels, valleys, stairs, entrances, walls, obstacles, gates, ladders, windows, shutters, ramps before me. I do not know what awaits my timid steps. 

There are doors and I must go through them. There are portals of circumstance still unseen. 

There is light here, and primarily this is the light of God's Word. It leads me on. There is the light of Church teaching as well, helping to make straight my paths. 'God's word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path.'  

If I am to travel deep into the will of God, I must embrace the finer - the finest - points of His will. 

Cloister of the heart is a journey into the depths, a trek into ever deepening surrender. I see basic boundaries today, but some - the boundaries and doors of unfolding circumstances - I cannot see.  They are hidden and obscure.

It is only by opening one door that I can journey toward the others.   

My cloister, therefore, is not a small enclosure.  It is as big and deep as the plan of God.  It is as wide as His love, as far-reaching as His call.   

I am enclosed in a journey.

I am traveling more deeply into the will of God.  


Top painting:  William Paxton, 1921, in US public domain due to age
Door photo in public domain
Bottom painting: A Procession in the Catacomb of Callistus