Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Place of Refuge

I knew, when the idea of the cloistered heart first came to me in the 1980s, that monasteries of nuns or monks have special places not open to outsiders.  I realized that these areas were called cloisters.  It was enough information to get me started.  “The whole idea of a cloistered heart,” I wrote in 1988, “is that the part of me referred to as the ‘heart’ – meaning my spirit, who I really AM – should be detached from the world in its attachment to the Creator of the world." 

A place of refuge, no matter where I happened to be.  A portable fortress, a place inviolate - where I could remain with Jesus in a doctor's office, a traffic jam, a restaurant, a mall.  It was an appealing idea.  It was also (this being most important) theologically sound. "The heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live... 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) 

The cloistered heart 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. 

"Remember… to retire occasionally into the solitude of your heart while you are outwardly engaged in business with others.  This mental solitude cannot be prevented by the multitude of those who surround you.  As they are not about your heart, but only about your body, your heart remains alone in the presence of God.”  (St. Francis de Sales).

(This is a gently edited repost from our 2011 archives, primarily taken from the Cloistered Heart book)

Text not in quotes

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A More Useful Prayer

'Mental prayer is no less useful to us or less pleasing to God when we suffer many distractions. As a matter of fact, it could be more useful than if we had many consolations, because it means harder work for us. It suffices that we faithfully try to drive away the distractions, not allowing our spirit to dwell on them willingly.'

St. Francis de Sales

Painting: Peter Vilhelm Ilsted, in US public domain due to age

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Finally, That Country

'The present life is given to us only to earn eternal life. If we forget this, we tend to concentrate all our affections on the things of this world, where we are but birds of passage... Believe me, if we want to live as happy pilgrims, we must always have in our hearts the hope of finally reaching that country where we will settle down forever. But at the same time we must believe, and believe with all our hearts (this is a most sacred truth!) that God keeps a loving eye on us as we walk toward Him, and never lets anything happen to us that is not for our greater good.'

St. Francis de Sales

Sunday, April 26, 2015

What's Lurking in the Foyer?

I don't like it when ugly, vile, distressing thoughts barge into the 'foyer' of my mind. Because I haven't been called out of the world in a physical sense, these have fairly easy access. At any moment, they might whisper from newspapers, blare from TVs, and sneak in via conversations overheard in checkout lines.

I do have influence over some of what's allowed to enter. I know how to change a television channel.  I do not have to attend movies in which I know there are unacceptable scenes. I can often switch topics if someone's conversation veers into areas of gossip. I realize that once disturbing or sinful thoughts have gained admittance, they often set up camp and yammer at me through the grille for days or weeks to come.  They can cause my mind to wander into areas where I do not want it to go. If entertained, they can lead me right into sin.

I am well advised, therefore, to boot unholy ideas from my mind at the earliest possible moment. Mine is not a wise choice if I spend time with them, entertain them, or invite them in to sit down and present their case. "When an evil thought is presented to the mind," said St. Alphonsus Liguori, "we must immediately endeavour to turn our thoughts to God."

"Our thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous, or worthy of praise."  (Philippians 4:8)

"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive, to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5)

"Certain attitudes deriving from the mentality of 'this present world' can penetrate our lives if we are not vigilant."  (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2727)

"Fix your thoughts on Jesus, Whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest." (Hebrews 3:1)

"Close your ears to the whisperings of hell and bravely oppose its onslaughts."  (St. Clare)

"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, His good, pleasing and perfect will."  (Romans 12:2)

"Disown by a brief and simple act every kind of thought that is contrary to divine love, saying: 'I renounce all thoughts that are not for You, O my God; I disown them and cast them off forever.'  And then when they attack you, you do not have to do anything except to say from time to time: 'O God I have rejected this, You know I have.'" (St. Francis de Sales)

Text not in quotes © 2015 Nancy Shuman 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Even In the Midst

'We cannot go to Jesus in the Tabernacle at every moment of the day, but we can turn inward to the Triune God at any moment, even in the midst of our day's worst difficulties.' (The Living Pyx of Jesus, Pelligrini, 1941, p. 27)

'To be with God it is not necessary to be always in church. We may make a chapel of our heart, whereto to escape from time to time to talk with Him quietly, humbly and lovingly.... Begin then; perhaps He is waiting for a single generous resolution.' (Brother Lawrence) 

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

'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.' (Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity)  

'A strong, resolute soul can live in the world without being affected by any of its moods, find 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.' (St. Francis de Sales)
'Your convent will be the house of the sick; your cell, a hired room; your chapel, the parish church; your cloister, the city streets... your enclosure, obedience; your grating, the fear of God; your veil, holy modesty.' (St. Vincent de Paul)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

To Walk Cloistered In The World

'Do as little children who with one hand hold fast to the hand of their father and with the other gather strawberries or blackberries along the hedges. 

'In the same manner, while gathering and managing the goods of this world with one hand, hold fast to the hand of your heavenly Father, turning to Him from time to time to see if your actions or occupations are pleasing to Him. 

'Take care, above all, that you do not leave His hand and protection, thinking of collecting and gathering more.'

St. Francis de Sales

Painting: Oda Krohg

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Living in the Presence of God

'There is a certain way of living in the presence of God, through which, if the soul so desires, it can remain always in prayer and continually aflame with love of God. It is realized by carrying out one's duties with the thought of doing God's will, and taking delight in that.'   

St. Alphonsus Rodriguiz

Painting: Pieter Janssens Elinga

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Way Through That Wall

Picture Attribution
I never want to be separated from the love of God. So I'm thankful to have the following as a vital piece of my grillwork:  "I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

I read these words a second time, and a third, and I let their power wash over me.  Time cannot conquer this astonishing love, death itself cannot separate me from it. No distance anywhere will ever be too far.

However, if I look closely at the "grille" (Scripture and the teachings of the Church), I do find one specific thing that can put a wall between me and the love of God.

"Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become 'like gods,' knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus 'love of oneself even to contempt of God.' In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation." (Catechism of the Catholic Church n.1850)

"If we say, 'we are free of the guilt of sin,' we deceive ourselves; the truth is not to be found in us. But if we acknowledge our sins, He who is just can be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrong." (1 John 1:8-9)

"If I cannot perceive God because of sin," I wrote here several years ago, "maybe it works both ways. Maybe He can't see ME.  Maybe He'll forget all about me, and then He won't notice that I'm living in sin. Maybe there isn't any such thing as sin; I mean, all I have to do is turn on TV to know that today's 'social norms' do not even seem to recognize its reality. 

"I can do a lot to hide that pesky wall. Add a bright coat of paint, plant some ivy, maybe even put up a hedge so I don't see the wall at all, in time. Sin can be made to look quite attractive and normal.  Just a spray of denial and a dulling of conscience, and I'm all set. 

"Except that I'm not.  I'm not set at all.  I'm walled off from God; and in my moments of honesty, I am miserable.  If I find myself in such a spot, I don't have to stay there.  If I am in serious sin, I daresay I know it. I might have tried fooling myself, playing some 'everybody's doing it' games in my head.  But I know...."

Thank God, there is a way through that wall. "If we confess our sins, He who is just can be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrong."  (1 John 1:9)

Lord Jesus Christ, I confess to You that I am a sinner.  In particular, I ask forgiveness for these  transgressions___________.  I am so sorry.  If my sins have been grave, help me get to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Give me the strength to turn away from sin and temptation, and to avoid occasions that would lead me into sin.  Thank You for Your grace and mercy.  I ask You to break down any walls of sin that keep me from You.  Jesus, I trust in You.  Amen.

Painting: Artgate Fondazione Cariplo - Molteni Giuseppe, La confessione, courtesy of Wikimedia. Click here for link.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How Shall I Love God?

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." (Colossians 3:1-2)

"Don't be afraid to call Our Lord by His Name, Jesus, and to tell Him that you love Him." (St. Josemaria Escriva)

"Love Him totally, Who gave Himself totally for your love." (St. Clare of Assisi)

"The more we love God, the more we will want to love Him." (St. Joaquina)

"Some torment themselves seeking ways of discovering the art of loving God. These poor souls do not know that there is no method of loving Him other than doing what is pleasing to Him." (St. Francis de Sales)

"Because we start with the Person of Christ, the basis of our obedience is not fear, it is love. You cannot love dialectical materialism, but you can love a Person. Between our Lord and us there is the bond of love. These two are inseparable."(Venerable Fulton Sheen)

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength... you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:30-31)

"The love of God consists in this:  that we keep His commandments." (1 John 5:3)

"You will live in My love if you keep My commandments, even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and live in His love"' (Jesus, in John 15:10)

"What is the mark of a love for God?  To keep His commandments for the sake of His glory." (St. Basil)

"Love of God is acquired by resolving to work and suffer for God and to abstain from all that displeases Him when the temptations arise. The better to do this in great things, one must grow accustomed to it in little things." (St. Teresa of Avila)

"I do not have any other means to prove my love to You, but to throw flowers. That is, to let no sacrifice, no look, no word pass, to take advantage of all the littlest things and to do them out of love... Hence, I pluck every flower I find on my way, for Jesus." (St. Therese of Lisieux )

Paintings:   'Faith' by Federic Leighton
                 'Carità' by Schedoni
                 'By Grandmother's Sickbed' by Michael Ancher
                 All in US public domain due to age

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Blest am I

It is one of my favorite scenes in Scripture.

Thomas, who had not been present when Jesus appeared to the disciples just after His Resurrection, was skeptical. "'I will never believe it,' said he, 'without probing the nailprints in His hands, without putting my finger in the nailmarks and my hand into His side.' A week later, the disciples were once more in the room, and this time Thomas was with them. Despite the locked doors, Jesus came and stood before them. 'Peace be with you,' He said; then, to Thomas: 'take your finger and examine My hands. Put your hand into My side. Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!' Thomas said in response, 'my Lord and my God!'" (John 20:25-29)

What strikes me most about this is Jesus' tender mercy to Thomas. There are no reprimands. Our Lord doesn't say "oh you of little faith, why do you doubt? You've got to exercise faith, Thomas! You can do it! Just make up your mind!"

No. Jesus simply offers Thomas the precise help he needs. He invites the disciple to probe and examine His sacred wounds. What an act of mercy! "Yes, it is I," He could be saying. "Come and see."

Thomas, as we know, cried out "my Lord and my God!" To which Jesus responded "You became a believer because you saw Me. Blest are they who have not seen and have believed."

Blest are you. Blest am I. We haven't had the privilege of probing Our Lord's wounds, yet we have believed. We've had other privileges. We have been given the gift of faith. Perhaps at times we've doubted God's love or even His reality, and maybe we've told Him this. I certainly did, years ago, when I said "God, I don’t believe in you, but if you’re real, and if you can hear me, I’m asking you to show me once and for all who or what you are." (the story of that can by found by clicking here). Years later, I still want to fall on my face in thanksgiving for Our Lord's response to my pleading. He gave me the precise help I needed, help that was tailor made for me, at that exact time.

I remember thinking, when I cried out to God that day, that maybe He would show up in the room so I could see Him.  He did not do that. He even let me go on doubting for a tiny bit longer, but He did not leave me alone.

He led me not to probe His physical wounds, but to probe His scriptures. He drew me to examine and appreciate the truth of His Church. He let me experience not His nailprints, but His presence.

Thanks to His great mercy, I believe.

Blest am I.

Text not in quotes © 2015 Nancy Shuman 

Painting: Carl Bloch, The Doubting Thomas

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Door of Mercy

'Before I come as a just Judge, I first open wide the door of My mercy.'

Jesus to St. Faustina

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Personal Love

How much does God love us... each individual one of us.... personally?

He gives us some clues in the writings of His saints.
'God's love for us is freely given and unearned, surpassing all we could ever hope for or imagine.' (St. John Paul II)

'He loved us personally.. centuries before we were born.' (St. Peter Julian Eymard)

'Eternal beauty! You act as if You could not live without Your creature, even though You are life itself....You have fallen madly in love with what You have made!' (St. Catherine of Siena)

'There is no limit to God's love. It is without measure and its depth cannot be sounded.' (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta)

'When did God's love for you begin? When He began to be God. When did He begin to be God? Never, for He has always been without beginning and without end, and so He has always loved You for eternity.' (St. Francis de Sales)

'You, God, made Yourself lowly to make us great!' (St. Catherine of Siena)

'God is more lenient than you because He is perfectly good and therefore loves you more. Be bold enough then to believe that God is on your side, even when you forget to be on His.' (Venerable Fulton Sheen)

'Jesus offers His lifelong, faithful, and personal friendship, embracing us in tenderness and love.' (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta)

Painting: James Tissot

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


"How much does Mommy love you?" I often asked my children when they were toddlers. It was my own variation on the "how big are you?" question, the one asked of little ones who respond with arms held wide as a parent cries: "Sooooo big!!"

"How much does Mommy love you?" I would ask. Oh, how I loved it when a little one threw chubby arms out as far as he could reach, trying to baby-chant along with my joyful proclamation of "Thiiiiis much!!"

I wanted my children to realize how much I loved them. I just wanted them to know.

Such knowledge could provide, I knew, a hedge around those days when these little ones would be tempted to doubt their parents' love, especially when they got old enough to need guidance through discipline. And what about when peers, long in the future, pushed my teens to join in activities of which Mommy and Daddy wouldn't approve?  ("mean old parents, only out to keep us from having fun; everything we want to do they say NO to. They must not care about us at ALL"). As a parent, I wanted them to be well grounded in the security that, even when Mom and Dad said "no," they were loved.

Sometimes I've doubted the love of my own Parent. I've allowed myself dark moments of wondering if my heavenly Father could really love a sinner like me. When such doubts come, I'm vulnerable to a particular kind of peer pressure - the kind that whispers (generally not in words) that my heavenly Father is distant from my little life, that He doesn't really care.

If that happens, I know where to turn.  To (of course) the grillwork. To what God Himself assures me in Scripture and Church teaching.  He loves me, and He loves you: that is the truth.

How much does He love us?

This much.....

"Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us and has sent His Son as an offering for our sins." (1 John 4:10)

"It is precisely in this that God proves His love for us:  that while we were still sinners. Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

"He who obeys the commandments he has from Me is the man who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father. I too will love him and reveal Myself to him." (John 14:21)
"By embracing in His human heart the Father's love for men, Jesus 'loved them to the end,' for 'greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' In suffering and death, his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of divine love which desires the salvation of men. Indeed, out of love for his Father and for men, whom the Father wants to save, Jesus freely accepted His Passion and death." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 609)

"St. John goes even further when he affirms that 'God is love.' God's very being is love. By sending His only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange." (Catechism no. 221)

"God loves each of us as if there were only one of us." (St. Augustine)

"Our Lord loves you and loves you tenderly." (St. Pio)


Painting at top: Sir William Quiller Orchardson, Master Baby (detail)
Crucifix photo from Pixabay

Monday, April 6, 2015

Eye Has Not Seen...

"Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)

It is Easter, and thoughts have turned toward heavenly things. Dark has been overcome by Light. Life has conquered death. Truth has shattered lies.

Looking around the world in which we live, however, we might be starting to wonder. We see so much darkness. Death appears to win more battles than we care to think about. Shoving truth aside, lies strut around proud and haughty and apparently triumphant. Just imagine there's no heaven, we were told in song forty years ago; imagine no hell. And that, it seems, is precisely what the world has been doing - imagining that this life is all there is.

I would like to spend the next few weeks looking through the grillwork, considering how various ideas do or do not line up with what is "on our grille."  I find the world's current view of eternity (for instance) quite obvious. It's hard to miss that view if we have read a newspaper lately, or turned on a TV.  The world, as a whole, appears to be imagining that there are no consequences whatsoever for the choices we make.

But what do Scripture and Church teaching have to say on the matter?

It is only through reading the Bible and authentic teachings of the Church that we shall ever find the "view through the grille."

"Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself." (Philippians 3:20-21)

"Blest are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven." (Matthew 5:10-11)

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father Who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21

"Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."  Matthew 10:28

"By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God the souls of all the saints... and other faithful who died after receiving Christ's holy Baptism... already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgement... have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1023)

"Let us never forget the sublime end of man, which is to be happy forever in a blessed eternity." (St. John Bosco)


Painting: Louis Janmot, Poème de l'âme, in US public domain due to age {PD-US}

Saturday, April 4, 2015

And They Believed

'Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb.  They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first.  He bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter, following him, also came up, went into the tomb, saw the linen cloths lying on the ground and also the cloth that had been over His head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in.  He saw and he believed.'  (John 20:3-8)

Have a Blessed Easter!

Painting:  Eugene Burnand, John and Peter

Friday, April 3, 2015

Now the Bright Gate

'Once as the tree of torture known - now the bright gate to Jesus' throne.'

St. Peter Damian

Painting: James Tissot, 'It is Finished'

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Written with a Strange Beauty

'The law that is perfect because it takes away all imperfections 
is charity, and you find it written with a strange beauty 
when you gaze at Jesus your Savior 
stretched out like a sheet of parchment on the Cross, 
inscribed with wounds, 
illustrated in His own loving blood.  
Where else is there a comparable book of love to read from?' 

Blessed Jordan of Saxony

Painting: James Tissot

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Science of the Saints

'Here learn the science of the saints: all is to be found in the passion of Jesus. Make every effort to remain hidden in the wounds of Jesus, and you will be enriched with every good and every true light, enabling you to fly to that Perfection which is consonant with your way of life.'

St. Paul of the Cross

Painting: James Tissot, 'Jesus Before Pilate First Interview'