Tuesday, June 30, 2015


'Thank God, there still remains one sanctuary, 
the sacredness of which no earthly power may violate… 
It is the sanctuary of the human heart.  
It needs no fixed place for its confines, 
no stated time for the opening of its gates, 
no particular hour of silence for its prayer.  
A thought, a word, a moment of reflection, 
and by faith and by love, the 
soul is within the blessed refuge, and 
the gates are closed on the confusion of life
with all its noise and tumult. 
It is secure against the bitterness 
and the pain of persecution, 
or hardship or trial, 
or hurt of body, 
or wound of earthly pride, 
or failure of worldly ambition, 
for there she is inviolable, sacred,
impregnable in the fortress of her own spirit.'

From The Living Pyx of Jesus, Pelligrini and Co, 1941, p.101

Painting: Gerard Dou

Monday, June 29, 2015

Prayer To Pierce the Clouds

I love it when I find that my work has already been done. After struggling and wrestling to write about the perspective necessary for those who wish to pray "through the grille," I ran into an article that said exactly what I would have said had I been able to say it.

"Prayers used to look to God and long for heaven," writes Msgr. Charles Pope. "More commonly today, even when they look to God, they speak more of this earth and ask God to make it more comfortable.... I notice that many, if not most prayers, ask God to fix something here: 'Fix my finances, Lord; fix my health; fix my situation at work; help people who are suffering; fix it all Lord!'... Now, of course it is not wrong to pray for any of the things above. But it is the silence about heavenly things that most concerns me...."

It concerns me, too. Make me happy. Make me comfortable. And I'm not forgetting about others, so please make my family and friends and the folks in my parish comfortable too.

But why am I trying to write this? Msgr. Pope has said it wonderfully.

Click this line to see for yourself.

"Perhaps our prayer, while not neglecting worldly needs and concerns, should once again pierce the clouds and set our minds on heavenly things?" 

Set our minds on heavenly things. Oh yes indeed. I ask it, Lord, for each of us.

Teach us prayer that pierces clouds. Teach us to pray, really pray, "through the grille."

Painting: Walter Moras, 1913, in US public domain due to age

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Revisiting a Culture Ungrilled

Monastery grilles are normally set into walls, so there is essentially no getting around them. The grille in this photo would have been in such a situation in its original state. As it is now, however, it's on public display to illustrate how the set-up once worked.

As persons who live in the world, we are not enclosed by physical walls and grilles. If we want to respond to all things "through the grillwork of the will of God" (in other words, through Scripture and Church teaching), we must make a conscious effort to "see" that grille before us. Such seeing does not come automatically, and the culture we live in doesn't help us. 

In fact, if we really pay attention to what God says about (insert topic here), we are likely to find a real conflict between God's revealed will and what we're told by the world around. Scripture and Church teaching are clear on how to think according to the basics of God's will, but how often would we rather ignore the clarity? We can find it quite easy to succumb to the murkiness of what is most commonly thought, tolerated, said, believed, done.

It is not difficult to find God's "mind" on a particular subject. We have Scripture, and we've been given the marvelous tool of the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church. There is not much that can't be found therein, and there we can find the basic "bars of the grille."  

I love the photo a friend provided for this post, because I feel it shows our exact situation. We can choose to view and respond to situations through the grillwork of the will of God .... or we can move away at any time. We can simply get up, or lean just a little, and we're suddenly seeing life "un-grilled and raw."  

Thankfully we don't have to stay ungrilled, however. Jesus is always waiting to help us get back to where we belong.
We live in the midst of an ungrilled culture. With one click of a TV button or computer mouse, we come face to face with life as it was not intended, by God, to be. 

If we compare what we see around us to what's in Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, how many examples might we find of "a culture ungrilled?" 

This is an edited repost from June, 2012. It is being linked with Theology Is A Verb and Reconciled To You for 'It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday' 


(photo by C Wells, at the Carmel of Port Tobacco in La Plata, Maryland, site of the first Carmelite monastery in the USA) 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Have Mercy On Me!

                   'There are times, bitter times, full of doubt and despair,
                   when we almost abandon the language of prayer.
                   When our lips and our hearts scarcely venture to frame
                   even His, our dear Master's own merciful Name.
                   When Mary, our Mother, seems deaf to our cry
                   and angels and saints seem too far and too high.
                   O! When God in His wisdom such moments shall send,

                   let one cry from our lips in His Presence ascend,       
                   a cry full of anguish, yet trust let it be -
                   O Thou Who has made me,
                   have mercy on me!'

by 'A Religious,' LISTENING TO THE INDWELLING PRESENCE, Pellegrini, Sydney, pp. 217-218

Painting: M Nesterov, The Nightingale is Singing 1918, in US public domain due to age

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cloistered Darts

'It is an old custom with the servants of God always to have some little prayers ready, and to be darting them up to heaven frequently during the day, lifting their minds to God from out of the filth of this world. He who adopts this plan will get great fruit with little pains.'

St. Philip Neri

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Revisiting Bells

Most activities in the physical monastery start with a bell. Time to rise:  the bell rings. Time to pray:  the bell rings. The sections of a monastic day are spoken into being by the bells.  

Part of me hungers for such bells. I almost crave the insistent rhythms of their voices. Predictable, familiar, reliable, steady bells that would insure my prayer and rest; bells that would regulate and balance the pieces of my life.

Out here in the world, my "bells" are unpredictable. I cannot count on their sameness from week to week. "Just as soon as we are familiar with one set of daily bells ringing," wrote one of you, "another replaces them." 

Don't we know the truth of this. Seasons come and go, calling us to answer school bells and wake-up bells, church bells and wedding bells, baby cries and doorbells and phone bells and stovetop buzzers. They change with every passing year.

Predictable, reliable, steady?  No. Out here, things cannot be that way.

Calls to prayer, too, are far from automatic. I must find ways to ring the "prayer bells" for myself.  Notes stuck to a mirror, a watch alarm, a phone beep. I have to make my own reminders. 

When it comes to prayer, I must ring my own bells.

(this is edited from earlier posts in our archives)


Anonymous painting, 1877, in US public domain due to age

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Those Things the Fathers Taught

'Teach nothing new, but implant in the hearts of everyone those things 
which the fathers of venerable memory taught with a uniform preaching.'

Pope St. Leo the Great

 Painting: Caravaggio, St Augustine, c. 1600

Friday, June 12, 2015

Lost in His Heart

'I feel entirely lost in this divine Heart. It is as though I were in a fathomless abyss, in which He discloses to me treasures of love and of grace for those who consecrate and sacrifice themselves to give and procure for Him all the honor, love and glory in their power.'

St. Margaret Mary

public domain photo

Thursday, June 11, 2015

My Amens

Finding space for prayer can be a struggle for many of us, on some days more than on others. Which is why I appreciate the practice of a Morning Offering, or a Direction of Intention. On those days when circumstances call me to race from caring for children to helping a friend to making a last minute dinner, I am grateful for a prayer like this one... 

"My God, I give You this day. I offer You, now, all of the good that I shall do.. and I promise to accept, for love of You, all of the difficulty that I shall meet. Help me to conduct myself during this day in a manner pleasing to You."
(St. Francis de Sales)

May my moments of service be my amens. 

Painting: Adriaan de Lelie, in US public domain due to age

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Revisiting an Act of God

I sometimes forget that prayer is not a one sided activity. I read, I talk to God, I commit to Him.  And then....

Something happens.

This is not always a "felt" something.  It may not be perceived by me at all.  But when I am speaking with Jesus and reading His Word and committing myself to live for Him, an amazing thing is going on. He is actually here.  Not just in my imagination, not by an act of wishful thinking. Jesus is genuinely here.

I can forget this breathtaking reality when my prayer has been dry or weighed down with distractions.  But Jesus is truly here, regardless of how I feel.  AND...

He is doing something.  Sometimes He brushes my spirit with His presence, sometimes He breathes a word of Scripture into my life, sometimes He lets me see a path I might be called to take.  But always He is here, and always He is acting.

When I pray with Scripture, I must make a first step, pick up my Bible, and thus open the "door" of prayer. As I read and talk to God, I open my heart to Him more widely.  But it can be hard to keep a door open, especially if it's only slightly ajar.  Its natural tendency may be to swing closed.  I must make an effort to hold it open. I compare this to the way my mind can drift as I try to keep it open to Christ in prayer.  Sometimes I have to find "props" to help me refocus and keep that door from slamming shut.

But there's one thing I've noticed about doors. When they're partially open, they often close under their own weight. Yet when they are opened beyond a certain point, most of them stay open on their own. 

Yesterday I began to feel God's help in keeping the "door" open.  It's almost as if I'd been holding it until my arm had grown tired, and then, quite unexpectedly, Someone took the weight of it from me.

Then, it's as if He walked in.  Somehow, it was as if He stepped more deeply into my life, into my awareness, into my prayer, and quietly led more of the "conversation."  And as impossible as this is to describe, I know I should not use the phrase "as if."  There's no "as if" about it.  Our Lord let me know, in some mysterious way, what I had believed by faith all along..... 

that He is here.  

"Experiences of God are far, far more than anything we can fabricate for ourselves.... when God gives someone the unspeakable experience of Himself in contemplative immersion, He leaves no stone unturned."  (Father Thomas Dubay SM, Fire Within, Ignatius, 1989,  p. 47)

Painting: Josep Benlliure Gil, in US public domain due to copyright expiration

This is a slightly edited repost from November, 2012. It is being linked with Theology Is A Verb and Reconciled To You for 'It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday' 

Monday, June 8, 2015

This Bears Repeating

      A cloistered heart accepts God’s grace to love Jesus Christ 
      in the midst of a world that does not love Him,
      to embrace His will in a world which does not embrace it.
      Thus the cloistered heart becomes a place of refuge
      not only for us, but for Christ Himself.
      To create such a refuge is a primary part of
      the cloistered heart’s apostolate. 



Sunday, June 7, 2015

Paradise To Go

'He who bears God in his heart, carries his paradise with him everywhere.'
           St. Ignatius of Loyola


Painting: G. Caillebotte

Saturday, June 6, 2015

When You Witness Error

'Divine assistance for the Church is not restricted to the first centuries of the Church, but is continued and will be continued to the end of time. This reflection has calmed my spirit on more than one occasion. May it serve to calm yours when you witness error worming its way about.'

Blessed Dominic Barberi

Friday, June 5, 2015

My Haven on the Sea of Life

'He gave me His Heart to be my refuge, my help in all my needs, and my haven of repose amidst the storms and tempests on this sea of life. There the cross must be my throne of glory. On it alone must I find my joy. Nothing means anything to me anymore but Jesus...'

     St. Margaret Mary

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Revisiting the Cloistered Lightship

We who live for God in the world can find much to identify with by having a look at lightships.  These are vessels responsible for carrying light where a lighthouse cannot go. 

Lighthouses must be built on land. Their job is to keep a ship on course and to warn of treacherous obstacles.  Yet there are hidden dangers out IN the waters.  To mark these hazards is the lightship's job.

A lightship is, in effect, a floating lighthouse. It goes out into the waters and stands anchored in the midst of waves, regardless of the relentless, unpredictable nature of storms and surging seas.

A monastery can be compared to a lighthouse standing on a hill. It is a beacon sending out prayer and witness.

We who live for God in the midst of the world are like lightships sent out on mission.  We do not have to look far to see darkness, rising tides of sin and secularism, waves of materialism, winds of confusion threatening the world in which we live.  We all have our roles to play in the midst of it, in just the spots where we've been placed.  We have much light to carry, for the storms surge all around and all we have to do is pick up a newspaper to see the truth of this.

We who feel drawn to live in the world while keeping cloister in our hearts have received much light from the warm glow of monastic life.  Ours is the call to live as God calls His people to do, in the midst of a world that will often question why anyone would want to live this way.  Ours is the call to receive the glow of God's revealed truth and then to carry that fire into the very environments in which we have been placed - into our families, neighborhoods, work situations.  We have before us the call and the challenge to bring the light of Christ into the "sea" of the world, and to hold that light aloft amidst storms and surges.

We must hold the light aloft when the waves of circumstance grow so tall that they seem likely to overwhelm us, when we feel in panic at the swells all around.  We must hold the light aloft in polluted waters, waters filled with the grime of sin and confusion and unholy compromise. Ours is the task of standing firm, anchored deep in Christ in the midst of the world. 

It is hard to remain firmly anchored in times of storm.  Imagine how it must feel to be on a small ship in powerfully surging seas, when thunder rolls and weighted black clouds seem to come down and envelop the earth.  We do not see land then, nor do we have much hope of it.  We can feel isolated.  We can feel as if we've become one with the clouds, the storms, the sea.

It is our challenge to remember that we are not the sea, nor are we of it.  We are merely in the midst of it.  We are not the fear, the lies, the confusion that surround us; we are not the evil that encircles.  We are vessels in which the Light of Christ dwells.

What do we do when storms surround us, leaving us tossed about and frantic?

What do we do when the seas around are calm, and we're tempted to forget all about the light, and we find ourselves drowning in a sea of complacency about things of God?

The answers are there; help is available.  God does not commission His lightships without thoroughly equipping us.  He has provided training manuals:  we've been given Scripture so we can stay on course and in good working order.  We have also been given a marvelous gift in this time in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The One Who has placed us in the seas has given us a wealth of navigational aids.

We are kept from floundering by staying in continual contact with the One Who equips and commissions us.  Prayer is our "ship to shore radio," so so speak. Through it, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

His is the Light we carry.  He is the reason
we serve.


Painting: Carl Locher, The lightship at Skagen Reef , in US public domain due to age
Drawing of Sevenstones Lightship in US public domain due to age
"Ambrose" lightship photo: public domain via Wikimedia

This was originally published in 2012. It is being linked with Theology Is A Verb and Reconciled To You for 'It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday'  

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Steady Gleam

"In the formation of conscience, the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice."  (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1785) 

"Learn to fix the eye of faith on the divine word of the Holy Scriptures as on 'a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the day-star arises in our hearts' " (St. Augustine) 

"All the lights of this world, radiant in their brilliance and wealth and flashing splendour, cannot compare with the pure, steady gleam of Faith. No earthly light can show us God. No blaze from the fires of this world can light up the mysteries of life, or reveal Eternal Truths. No! It is the fixed, constant, and unchanging Ray of Faith that turns darkness into day, and exchanges doubt for certainty. Faith gives not only light, but understanding and acute vision also. All that we can see, we know was made from invisible things. 'Faith pierces the visible and gives a glimpse of the Invisible.' (from The Living Pyx of Jesus by A Religious, Pellegrini, Australia, 1941,  p.120)
Photo: Pixabay

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Plague of the Present Day

'Now there are certain things that strengthen the prominence of evil thoughts in us: bad companions, bad books, a forgetfulness of daily duties, and the viscious habits that result. But of all these, bad books are the worst. They are the plague of the present day.

'A book is bad not only when it contains impure and immoral thoughts, but when it gives false ideas, pretending to be the judge of everything, to ridicule everything sacred or honorable. These sorts of books are all the worse when they are beautifully written, as they generally are. They debase the taste, making healthy food seem disgusting....

'Forgive me for saying all this; but I know your passion for reading, and all I would venture to say to you is this: don't play with poison.' 
St. Theophane Venard

Painting: Eduard von Gr├╝tzner, in US public domain due to age