Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pray Like a Fish

'The more we pray, the more we wish to pray. Like a fish 
which at first swims on the surface of the water, 
and afterwards plunges down, 
and is always going 
deeper; the soul plunges, 
dives, and loses itself 
in the sweetness 
of conversing with God.'

St. John Vianney

Painting: Goud-en zilvervisjes in een quarium Rijksmuseum, in US  public domain due to age, digitally enhanced

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Are There Any Little Corners?

"Don't be one of those who give God everything but one little corner of their heart, on which they put up a notice board with the inscription: 'trespassers not allowed." (Father William Doyle)

This quote is making me wonder. 

I try to give God every part of my heart, truly I do.  Daily I do. 

But are there any little corners I might have closed off to Him? "You can have this and this, Lord... but... maybe not that." I don't say it, of course. Not in words. 

Yet I ask myself. Am I determined to manage some area(s) of my life the way I want? Am I even a bit fearful to turn any particular something over to God, lest He arrange things in a way I may not prefer? 

Am I feeling pretty good about having given, maybe, ninety percent of myself to Him - perhaps even patting myself on the back for being so generous, while I cling fiercely to the rest?

If so (and I reluctantly admit that in my case, this IS so), I think perhaps Our Lord is patting my back too, accepting my gift with love. But He doesn't stop there. I cannot imagine Him "patting my back" without then slipping His arm around me, asking me to invite Him into that corner, encouraging me to let Him take care of anything I've kept away from His love. 

"Trust Me," I can almost hear Him saying, and I know this is not an imaginary exercise at all. 

His plea for my trust is very real.

With His grace, day by day and step by step, I can let Him come inside the wall. 

Here I stand, knocking at the door.  If anyone hears Me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with Him, and he with Me.”  (Revelation 3:20)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

One Day of Absolute Generosity

The following words ring out to me. I hear them as an invitation.  Can I do this for just one day? 

'Live for the day, as you say, 
but let it be a generous day. 
Have you ever tried giving God
just one day 
in which you refused Him nothing, 
a day of absolute generosity?'

Father William Doyle

Painting: Liotard Schokoladen Maedchen

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Instructor of Those Who Live in Town

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Francis de Sales. If there were a list of 'cloistered heart patrons' (and from my point of view, there is), this saint and Doctor of the Church would be (is) at the top.

Although he lived in the 1600s, St. Francis continues to teach much about the 'cloister' in which I'm privileged to find myself.  Francis lived and wrote in an age when intense devotion to Christ was considered appropriate for those in cloisters, but not so much for persons in the world. This gentle bishop taught otherwise, and he has left a rich legacy for those of us who want to live totally for God, whatever our state in life. Letters he wrote to his spiritual directees help direct my own life 400 years later.  

St. Francis de Sales is patron of Catholic writers, patron of the deaf, and founder of the Visitation Order. I continue to ask that he pray for us as well.

I think of him as a very dear friend.

'Almost all those who have hitherto written about devotion have been concerned with instructing persons wholly withdrawn from the world…. My purpose is to instruct those who live in town, within families, or at court, and by their state of life are obliged to live an ordinary life as to outward appearances.'  (St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life).  

'It is an error, or rather a heresy, to wish to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the mechanic’s shop, the court of princes, or the home of married people.' (Introduction to the Devout Life).

'A strong, resolute soul can live in the world without being infected by any of its moods, find sweet springs of piety amid its salty waves, and fly through the flames of earthly lusts without burning the wings of its holy desires for a devout life.  True, this is a difficult task, and therefore I wish that many souls would strive to accomplish it with greater ardor than has hitherto been shown.'  (Introduction to the Devout Life). 

'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.' (Introduction to the Devout Life).        

Friday, January 23, 2015

Like a Storm Which Will Never Ruffle Your Soul

'A quiet hidden life is not possible for you in one way,
and yet perfectly so in another
by building a solitude in your heart
where you can ever live alone with Jesus,
letting the noise and worry of life,
cares and anxieties of the world,
pass over your head, like a storm
which will never ruffle the peace of your soul.
You will enjoy perfect calm and peace of soul,
the requisite condition for a life of union,
by keeping Jesus ever with you as a Friend,
and remembering that everything happens by His permission and is in fact His work.
Let this principle soak in and it will make you a saint. Apply it to every detail of your life,
and you will not be far from what you seek.'

Fr William Doyle SJ 
(special thanks to the generous commenter who shared this quote)  

Public domain photo

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Revisiting My Tiny One

My "snapshot" this time is several years old. It's a moment from our archives, a tender memory from 2012. It is, however, more than a memory. By the grace of God, I keep on holding, keep on loving, keep on swaddling with prayer.....

"As my lectio drew to a close this morning," I wrote in 2012, "something happened.

I felt a desire to hold a tiny, tiny newborn.  Being well beyond the age of giving birth myself, I attributed this longing to the fact that my youngest grandchild is now two.  And yes, I think that's part of it.

But it hit me:  this 'call to hold' may well be a nudge from God. I think it is a spiritual call, not a physical one.. and certainly it's in line with the call each of us has (to some degree or other) to pray for and help those in need.

So today I am saying yes, as an act of faith, and I'm 'spiritually adopting.'  There are so many little ones in imminent danger, ones so tiny that some dismiss them as not human.  There are infants whose parents have been told 'there might be something wrong with the fetus.  Our advice is to abort.'  There are newborns lying on cold metal tables, their skin burned with saline, ignored because their mothers, after all, did not want to carry them to term. Leave it alone, a nurse is told, forget it.  It's not a baby.

Not-A-Baby utters a pitiful cry, flails its little arms, reaches out with tiny fingers to grasp its gift of life. It IS a baby - a tiny, helpless, wounded baby who needs someone to care, to love, to hold. 

Perhaps I am adopting all of them, perhaps there is someone(s) specific, but today I hold out my 'arms.' I pray for mothers, fathers, grandparents, doctors, government leaders, voters, nurses, abortionists. I pray for the parents who have just been told their unborn child has an abnormality.  I pray for the unmarried teenager, and her boyfriend, and her frantic parents. I pray for a change in laws, I pray for a change in hearts.

I swaddle in prayer.  I cuddle with intercession. I hold a tiny one in my heart, and I say yes. I will work for you, O tiny one, I'll be your advocate however I can. 
And when they come for you to take your life, I will be at your side in prayer... 

'The mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo.'  Pope John Paul II (Evangelium Vitae)

Painting: Gabriel Cornelius von Max

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Blessings of Your Holy Temple

'Blessed is he whom You choose to call to dwell in Your courts -

we are filled with the blessings of Your house, of Your holy temple.'
Psalm 65:5

Paintings in US public domain; right click on images for more information

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Grabbing the Grille

'The person going into full physical enclosure,' I wrote some years ago, 'has a certain advantage. Grillwork is planted firmly in her walls. Once she enters the cloister, her entire outer environment is suddenly changed.

I, however, make the decision to cloister my heart, and the walls around my body are just the same as they were before the decision was made.

So mine is a challenging enclosure, and while I do not say it's any more difficult (certainly) than physically cloistered life, I do say it presents challenges. I get up in the morning and am not automatically reminded by my surroundings of the choice I've made to live for God. I see the same people and find no grillwork before them, so I must be reminded to relate to them as God asks me to do.'

A person with perfect vision pops out of bed each day and sees across the room with no problem. For some of us, this is not the case. I, for instance, inherited nearsightedness from my father. In order to see the world around me, I must begin my day by grabbing my glasses and placing them before my eyes. 

Having inherited original sin from my earliest father, I cannot see life correctly without help. In order to see through the 'grillwork' of Scripture and authentic Church teaching, I must know this 'grillwork' and I must practice living 'through' it.
God has given the perfect prescription for seeing clearly. But in order for the clarity to happen, I must accept the prescription, use it, and keep it ever before my eyes. 

I need to grab the Bible, every day. I need to grab it and hold onto it for dear, eternal life.

'The natural man does not accept what is taught by the Spirit of God. For him, that is absurdity.  He cannot come to know such teaching because it must be appraised in a spiritual way.' (1 Corinthians 2:14) 

Grillwork photo © C Wells
Glasses photo from public domain; digitally altered 


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Holding Hope of Green

I want to write a post here today. A "snapshot" of what's happening in my cloister right now. But oh, I feel so lazy. Tired, mentally sluggish, and very, very lazy.

Which IS (when I think of it) a snapshot of what's happening in my cloister right now.

I just saw a thumbnail picture of one of our earlier garden posts, and thought "I could write about gardens!" My enthusiasm for that lasted about nine seconds.

The truth is: I feel lifeless today. Lifeless about writing, lifeless about praying, lifeless about thinking. My tiny burst of enthusiasm seems to have popped out, had a quick look around, and rushed back underground. The "cloister garden" feels bare, unproductive, stark.

Turning my attention to the window beside me, I see that I am surrounded by sticks. Skinny bare branches reach halfway up the glass. In summer we call that clump of dark gray lines a "bush." Today it seems a strange word for what I see before me, a lush green word from an unknown foreign tongue.

If I had not experienced seasons, if I hadn't watched this bush drop leaves and wither every autumn,
and then burst forth with tender shoots each spring, I cannot imagine holding hope of green ... ever again.

But green is there. Life is there. Somewhere deep inside, safe from ice encrusted winter, life is there. Dormant, huddled, swaddled life. Plants need their seasons of dormancy as much as they need the warmth and sunlight of summer. When they seem totally barren, the sticks outside my window are in fact protecting life.

The appearance of lifelessness is far from the truth.

"O my Lord, I am in a dry land, all dried up and cracked by the violence of the north wind and the cold; but as You can see, I ask for nothing more. You will send me both dew and warmth when it pleases You." (St. Jane de Chantal)

Painting: Julius von Klever, 1906

Monday, January 12, 2015

Not a Change of Physical Dwelling

'No one can approach God without withdrawing from the world. 
By withdrawal I do not mean change of physical dwelling place, 
but withdrawal from worldly affairs. 
The virtue of withdrawal from the world 
consists in not occupying your mind with the world.'

St. Isaak of Syria

Painting: Maximilien Luce (digitally altered), in US public domain due to age

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What's on Your Grille?

We've said the following here many times, and now we'll go for many plus one:

The grille is a powerful symbol.  In the cloistered heart way of life I’m describing, it is the important symbol.  It is a place of separation and, just as importantly, it is a place of encounter.  It is only through the grille that some cloistered individuals connect with the world.

Every human being has been given, by God, a way to connect with the world.  A way to see situations correctly; a way to interact with others appropriately.

God invites each one of us to view and respond to every person and every circumstance through His will.

We do not have to guess what that will is.  God has revealed it to us.  Scripture and the authentic teachings of the Church make up the bars of our grille.

One exercise that I've found helpful over the years is to write scriptures on pictures of grillwork, or sometimes on pieces of plain cardboard on which I've drawn a simple 'grid' of squares. I have gone so far as to cut out the holes on some of these.  It's a simple little 'craft,' but it does help drive the point home for me. I am not so good at remembering to see and respond to people and circumstances 'through the grille,' so I benefit from a stream of tangible reminders. 

The important thing, of course, is to become familiar with my 'grillwork.' I have a number of Bibles in my home - do I read them? Do I spend time in prayer with Scripture? Do I allow the Word of God to form my mind and heart, so I can interact with the world as I am called to do?

As I have been writing this, I've been constantly reminded of a television commercial (I think for insurance) in which someone asks about the contents of our wallets. The contents of our minds are obviously of much more importance.  '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 12:0). It is a vital bar of our grille. 

The grillwork of God's Word to us is perfect, made-for-us-insurance when we face the world around us.

What's on YOUR grille?


Monday, January 5, 2015


Before Advent, I began looking (here) into our calls to be heroes of the faith in our everyday lives. 

Little you and little me: heroes of the faith.


Throughout history, there have been those who actually could imagine such possibilities. St. Therese, the little flower who practiced a very little way, wrote "already God sees us in glory and takes joy in our eternal beatitude. How this thought helps my soul!"

This thought helps my soul too, as does the realization that Therese was not always a great saint. From most accounts, she was a willful little girl given to occasional tantrums.  But of course, that was in her youth. What about those of us who carried our willfulness and rebellion all the way into adulthood? Is there any hope for us?

There was hope for a man named Augustine, even as he was pleading "Lord, make me chaste - but not yet!" Anyone who heard him say these words would be unlikely to think "now, that is a saint." 

But there was hope. There is always hope.

"To him who still remains in this world, no repentance is too late. The approach to God's mercy is open." (St.Cyprian)

"In the moment of temptation think of the Love that awaits you in heaven: foster the virtue of hope." (St. Josemaria Escriva)

We are all called to be with God in heaven, for all eternity. We are invited to begin (or to begin anew), answering that call at this very moment. We were created to be more than just nice people, more than folks who are fun to be around.

We are called and graced by God to become true heroes of the faith.

Little you and little me.


Painting at top: Winslow Homer
Painting at bottom: Edmund Blair Leighton (detail)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Not Afraid to Look

I am terrified. I stare at a blank computer screen and wait for words to appear. But they don't.

I've made a commitment. I have said I'd be sharing occasional "snapshots" of my life TODAY as a cloistered heart; snippets of my ongoing struggles to remain "cloistered" in the midst of this world, this family, this year, this age of the world and the Church and (oh dear) of me. Yes, I'm terrified. The screen sits here so. Blank.

What if the words are gone. I mean, it's as if I can't find them. Is it because I'm no longer just scribbling private scratches in hidden-away journals, as I did years ago, unaware that one day those would tumble out in print for other eyes to see?

Now I know you are right there, on the other side of the screen - and oh, I'm so grateful! I am truly grateful. You hear, you echo, and we let each other know, now and then, that we're not alone in being bent upon living for God right in the midst of the world. And even though the painting on this post is not actually of someone gazing at a computer screen, couldn't it be  In my case, with no jewels. And with a striped blouse and gray sweater (I knew you'd want to know that). But I digress....

To be bent on something, say the dictionaries, is to be resolute, extremely determined, characterized by firmness, and unshakeable.

Am I bent upon living for God? It is a good question as this new year begins.

And I think I will leave this post at that, just with that question. I do want to live a good life, a moral life, a life of concern for others. But am I, at this moment in time, utterly bent upon living for God? 

I will spend time today prayerfully pondering. Jesus is with me, and He is mercy, so I shall not fear my own answer.

Jesus is with me, and I am not afraid to look.

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