Monday, August 31, 2015

Our Habit

The habit of a cloistered heart is a habit of seeking God's will. It is a habit of prayer, of virtue, of choosing Our Lord above all. It is a habit of holy actions acquired over time, through repetition. 

'Clothe me, O eternal Truth, clothe me with yourself, that I may run my mortal course with true obedience and the light of holy faith…' (St. Catherine of Siena)

'Not only in body but in heart as well, no ornament becomes like humility, modesty and devotion.' (St. Francis de Sales)

Painting of nun: Marianne Stokes
Painting of laywoman: Joseph DeCamp


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Our Grille

'The Grille of a Cloistered Heart is the will of God.  As some monasteries have grillwork through which those in the cloister interact with the world outside, we can have spiritual 'grillwork.'  We can practice seeing and responding to every person and every situation through God's will as revealed to us in Scripture and the teachings of the Church.' 



Friday, August 28, 2015

Our Monastery

'The Monastery of a cloistered heart is the person's own life. A monastery is a place consecrated to God, a place of prayer, a place where God is loved and served. Our lives can be all of these things.  Just as any building can become a monastery by being dedicated to God, so our lives can become 'monasteries' by such dedication.'    

'Even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity.  'If a man loves Me,' says the Lord, 'he will keep My word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.' (John 14:23)'  (Catechism of the Catholic Church #260)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Our Place of Enclosure

'The Enclosure of a Cloistered Heart is within the will of God.  As a cloistered nun or monk lives within a specific area known as the cloister, we can make a specific choice to live within the will of God.  We can actively embrace the boundaries of God’s will as these are revealed in Scripture and Church teaching.'

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Revisiting The Cove

'What heavier burden is there than that which makes the soul descend from its sublime dignity down to the underworld, where all holiness is held in contempt? Then, my brother, flee all this agitation and misery, and go from the storm of this world to the cove where there is tranquil and certain rest.' (St. Bruno) 

Storms of the world swirl around me. In this time, as in Bruno's, all holiness is held in contempt (I notice that the word used by Bruno is 'all,' not 'some' holiness). Faith is mocked and dismissed, Jesus is discounted, sin is normalized, the sanctity of life is compromised, perversion is used to sell books and music and TV and movies. We know how it goes. 

I grow so weary at times. I want to take Bruno's advice and go to a cove. But of course I can't do that, not in a physical way. As I ponder these words, however, I see anew the gift of heart-cloister, the gift of living in the haven of God's will. I see, in the swirling storm surge, a path before me. 

Jesus beckons toward a safe refuge. 

Even in the midst of agitation and misery, I can flee. Surrounded by shadows, I can place my heart in the bright, blazing Light of Jesus.  

In the Cove of His Heart, there is tranquil and certain rest.

This is a slightly edited repost from our archives. It is linked to Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for It's Worth Revisiting Wednesday.

Painting at top: William McGregor Paxton
Painting at bottom:  Jean-Bernard Restout, St. Bruno Praying in the Desert

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How to Begin Everything

'Everything begins with prayer, spending a little time on our knees.'
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Photos from Pixabay

Sunday, August 23, 2015

If, If, If - All These Ifs!

'Let us bend all our energies to serve God in the way He wishes. This remark is made so that we may avoid the mistake of him who wastes his time in idle daydreaming. Such a one says 'if I were to become a hermit, I would become a saint,' or 'if I were to enter a monastery, I would practice penance,' or 'if I were to go away from here, leaving friends and companions, I would devote long hours to prayer.' If, If, If - all these Ifs! These idle fancies are often temptations of the devil, because they are not in accord with God's will. Hence we should dismiss them summarily and rouse ourselves to serve God only in that way which He has marked out for us. Doing His holy will, we shall certainly become holy in those surroundings in which He has placed us.' (St. Alphonsus Liguori)

Top Painting: Juan Rizi
Bottom Panting: Joseph Clark

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What A Beautiful Abode!

'From this valley of tears, turn your gaze continually to God, ever awaiting the moment when you will be united to Him in heaven. Often contemplate heaven, and fervently exclaim: What a beautiful abode is above! It is destined for us!'

St. Paul of the Cross

Paintings by El Greco

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Two Cities

'Two cities have been formed by two loves,' wrote St. Augustine. 'The earthly by love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to contempt of self.' 

If any particular thing inspired the idea of the cloistered heart, it may well have been St. Augustine's The City of God. I had forgotten how much influence this classic's key concepts had on me - until I began looking (recently) into the significance of the ever modern, ever changing, ever self-exalting City of Man. We do not have to search for the meaning of life, insists the City of Man, for we make meanings of our own. Life and death are in our hands. Our births and genders and lifespans are under our control. People buy, sell, market, advertise, build, play, entice, euthanize, lie, mock, cavort, satirize in that city. That city stands as an icon to the transient glory of Man.

'Though there are many nations all over the earth... there are no more than two kinds of human society, which we may justly call two cities.... One consisting of those who live according to man, the other of those who live according to God. ...To the City of Man belong the enemies of God... inflamed with hatred against the City of God.' (St. Augustine)

If we want to live for God, we won't find life easy in the City of Man. Yet we are in the midst of it. We have grown up in it. We're influenced by that city whether we want to be or not.

Thankfully, there's another alternative. There is an everlasting City of which God is the Center. He is its Author and Savior and Life.  God is the Chooser of times in This City. He is allowed to be, here, the Absolute Truth that He in fact IS. If we are living for God, our everlasting citizenship is Here.   

'As you well know, we have our citizenship in heaven.' (Philippians 3:20)

'The first city is that of the just, the second is that of the wicked. Although they are now, during the course of time, intermingled, they shall be divided at the last judgement... The earthly city, which shall not be everlasting... has its good in this world, and rejoices in it with such joy as such things can afford...  it desires earthly peace for the sake of enjoying earthly goods.' (St. Augustine)

Reading these words years ago, I began to think of the Church as an embassy. To step into a church building is to step into a space set aside, a space representing the City of God in the midst of the city of man. I live surrounded by the earthly city, but the City of God is where my allegiance lies.

'This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth... avails itself of the peace of earth, and so far as it can without injuring faith and godliness, desires and maintains a common agreement among men regarding the acquisition of the necessaries of life.' (St. Augustine)

I can live within the city of man (I realized years ago) as a monastery might exist in the middle of a city. In it but not of it. A citizen of God's Kingdom in the midst of the city of man. 

'Here we have no lasting city; we are seeking one which is to come.' (Hebrews 13:14) 


The City of God by St. Augustine is readily available online and in bookstores, and can be found by clicking here.

Text not in quotes

Photos on this post from Pixabay

Monday, August 17, 2015

Who Know Their Creed So Well

     'I want a laity... who know their religion, who enter into it, 
     who know just where they stand, 
     who know what they hold and what they do not, 
     who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it,
     who know so much of history that they can defend it. 
     I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity. 
     I wish (them) to enlarge (their) knowledge, to cultivate reason, 
     to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, 
     to learn to view things as they are,
     to understand how faith and reason stand to each other,
     and what are the bases and principles of Catholicism.' 

     Blessed John Henry Newman

      Painting: Peter Paul Rubens, The Four Evangelists

Resources to form us as holy laity:

Bible Online

Official Catholic Catechism Online 

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Dearer Heaven

'Our Lord does not come down from 
heaven every day to lie in a golden 
ciborium. He comes to find another 
heaven which is infinitely dearer to Him - 
the heaven of our souls.'

 St. Therese of Liseiux

Painting at bottom: Arthur Hughes

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Place Apart

I was a child when I discovered the 'path in between' church and world. I had no idea, of course, that I was 'discovering' anything. I was simply a little girl who was sent off to school each weekday on a city bus.

My Catholic grade school was in the center of a small midwestern city, the kind that did not (yet) have looming skyscrapers but did have tall buildings. The world was safer then, and a child could board a bus alone in her neighborhood and hop off right in the middle of town. No one was concerned about a nine year old girl walking three blocks from bus stop to school in the early morning dark.

While the city was much smaller than, say, Chicago, it had a similar kind of bustling atmosphere. 'Downtown' was the center of business and shopping in those days. Early morning streets were filled with businessmen heading to offices in suits and ties, usually toting leather briefcases. Women clicked along sidewalks in high heels, wearing skirts or dresses (never pants; oh heavens no), most likely to work in one of the tall buildings. 

I took it all for granted. Rushing people, blaring horns, blinking lights, the swoosh of tires through rain or snow, lines of buses at every corner - these were not urban life to me. They were simply... life.

First stop every school day was the church, for our days began with Mass. I would open one of the tall, heavy old doors and slip into a world apart. The Sisters didn't have to tell us to be quiet; the church itself did that. To speak above a whisper would have been to violate an ancient hush. I did not have to think such a thought to know it. I was entering a vestibule of heaven.

City sounds could still be heard, but as though far off in the distance. In here, no one rushed. In here were no fumes, no traffic lights, no conversations. Just incense and beeswax, a flickering of candles, the soft hum of Latin from the altar. It was a place apart.

Only in the last few days have I realized: my early experience of going from world into 'place apart' was a perfect preparation for having a cloistered heart. The church building, which (thank God) is still there, has been set apart as a place where Jesus can be loved and worshiped in the midst of the world. In the middle of what is now considered 'inner city,' it is a dedicated, consecrated, holy space.

And no matter what goes on around, Jesus Himself dwells within.  

'The Indwelling in me of the Holy Spirit implies that like the Church, the Altar, the Tabernacle, I am consecrated to be the temple, the house, the home of God Himself... My body is the Spirit's chosen dwelling place, a privileged altar.... Gladly I accept this great vocation, this high honour, this immeasurable dignity, to be Your temple, Your altar, Your house, Your home. (from "Listening to the Indwelling Presence," compiled by a Religious, Pellegrini, Australia, 1940) 

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Revisiting The First Bell

When I was twenty, I had what I now think of as a 'cloistered heart foreshadowing.'  In itself this was a startling occurrence, for my level of interest in monasteries at the time was zero. I was an active, single, compulsively busy young woman, and religious life was possibly the farthest thing from my mind.

I was taking a semester off college and working for an insurance company. Our office was located on an upper floor of a building in the center of town. One day, as I bustled about filing papers, I happened to look out through a large wall of windows. My view went over the tops of shorter buildings across Main Street, to an old church a block away.

The church, with its weathered gray stones and one large round window, made me think of a monastery. Without warning, I suddenly envisioned rows of black-habited figures walking through a kind of 'enclosed garden' in the middle of that building. There was no such garden in this church. Yet I had a sudden mental picture of black-habited figures walking along silently.

My sense was that this was a place of prayer right in the middle of the bustling, busy, noisy city.  It was as if the garden inside high walls was not known to anyone scurrying by outside, and although those inside could hear noise all around, they were largely unaffected by it.

Never mind that buses rumbled, tires screeched, horns blared. Inside the walls, hidden from the view of people rushing by, there was a secret place of prayer. Even now I can picture the silent figures I 'envisioned' there, with a soft autumn wind teasing the edges of their veils.

This mental picture was suddenly there and suddenly gone, leaving in its wake a thought most unexpected. This was:  'I’ll probably belong to God someday.' The belonging would be, I felt, as total as the belonging of a nun. I remember going on with my work in the office as though this unusual scene had not crossed my mind… but I never, ever forgot it.

I now look back and realize that the sense of people in an enclosed garden, right in the middle of a busy city, captures exactly the essence of 'the cloistered heart.'  Mine is not the call to withdrawal into a silent hermitage. Mine is a call to interact with the world and live in the midst of it. To be in the world while not being of it. 

Mine is a call to be a 'place' where Christ can be adored, met with, and honored - no matter where I happen to be.

This is a slightly edited repost from 2011. 

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Painting: Ferdinand Wagner
Photo of street via Pixabay

Monday, August 10, 2015

Not Meant To Fly

'True holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.' St. John Paul II

Photos from Pixabay

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Path In Between

A recent comment helped me realize something important.

I occasionally put two pictures on a post. One may be of a church or monastery, the other might have a scene of life 'out in the world.' Examples of what I mean can be found here and here and here.

Between these pictures of church and world is usually a quote, something making the point that we can adore Our Lord right where we are. Right in the midst of rush hour traffic. In a busy office or grocery. While wiping a table as we bounce Baby on our hip. We are not meant to disconnect from God while we're going about our daily round of duties. We're meant to connect with God through focused prayer as much as we can, and to maintain that connection IN our daily round of duties.

An illustration of this was shared with me some years ago, by a Sister who had read an article on The Cloistered Heart. In a letter to me, Sister wrote:

'Parallel to your vocation as a truly committed Christian, one called to a cloistered heart: I am called to the physical enclosure in which vowed life, community life, and apostolic ministry are but heading in the same direction as you. I like to refer to our prayer life as a cave. We need to enter that cave daily, often, regularly, despite any discomfort or darkness....  We are in this cave to find God - His presence - filling our soul with strength, light, courage, conviction... Staying in union with Him!  Only then can we go out into the marketplace, our apostolate. As an RN, I have certainly realized how the professional life tends to pull me away from the cave into dis-equilibrium.

'It is the path in between where we meet our Lord so often. That path... cloistered heart. It's the path in between that must be worn out. This path in between is where I relate.'

The path in between, I now realize, is what I try to 'illustrate' when I place a picture of a quiet church next to a photo of a bustling city. I like to see connections. I like to be struck by contrasts. For the truth is:  I live in the contrasts. Quiet/noise... contemplation/busyness... serenity/chaos... 

I expect to be writing more about this in future days. The path in between, after all, is where I live.

Painting: Carl Friedrich Lessing 
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Friday, August 7, 2015

In Church or in The Street

                'When I eat or drink, move or stand still, 
                speak or keep silent, sleep or wake, see, hear, or think; 
                whether I am in church, at home, or in the street, 
                in bad health or good, dying or not dying, 
                at every hour and moment of my life 
                I wish all to be in God.'

                St. Catherine of Genoa 

Images on this post are public domain via Pixabay

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Auditioning For Sainthood

Dreams can be useful things.  They wander through the soul, leaving the merest whispers, and I love them for the challenges they offer.

Daydreams stage little dramas in our minds.  They often call us forward into roles for which we begin mentally 'auditioning,' as we consider which dreams to pursue and which to set aside.

As a child, I rehearsed a lot for the part I most wanted to land as a grownup.  I had lots of props.  Dolls, of course, and pretend kitchen equipment, and dress-up clothes that made me look (I was sure of it) like a glamorous mommy.  I was especially fond of Mother's cast-off high heels, in which I teetered about house and yard at least a full inch taller.  I just knew my feet were growing into the shoes even as I wobbled along. I look back on those days now not so much as pretending, but as practice, and I'm happy to say that I grew up and landed my longed-for role as wife and mommy. 

I'm now long past childhood, but I'm not over the dreaming.  Indeed, I'm growing ever more serious about auditioning.  I am practicing daily for the most important role of my entire eternity.  God wants me to be with Him forever - that is why each one of us was created. Such glorious existence is, of course, called sainthood.  So I look carefully at the role models Holy Mother Church has given me. I speak with and imitate (or try to, at least) many of those who have traveled this road before.  I tiptoe in their footsteps and teeter, stumble, hoping that I'm growing step by wobbly step.  

To be with God forever. It is a high dream, for it is HIS dream.

I pray to have a good audition.  

'We must always have before our eyes the virtues and examples of the saints in order to pattern and form all our actions on them.'  (St. Francis de Sales)

'The saints were human as we ourselves are.  They were faced with the same difficulties, and temptations and wrestlings and agonies that confront us, and they dealt with them just as we do, only more bravely, and with a greater constancy and a more steadfast hope.  When we realise this, we feel that, at however great a distance, we still may dare to equate ourselves with them.  Sanctity is a goal to which there is no short cut, a temple to which there is no back entrance.  To it, there is but One Way - His, Who said of Himself, 'I am the Way.' (from The Living Pyx of Jesus by a Religious, Pelligrini and Co., Australia, 1941)

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

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Painting: George Phoenix, The Grandmother's Wardrobe, in US public domain due to age

Monday, August 3, 2015

Souls Prepared by Art

I have been experimenting with making 'graphics' lately. I suspect you've noticed. Thank you for your patience as I go through the process of learning.

One of the things I enjoy is putting together what I hope will resemble holy cards. That is the goal, at least, and I would like to keep working toward it. I love finding an uplifting painting, combining it with a prayer or quote, and suddenly realizing that my heart is soaring.

Which is, according to the following, the point of art.

'The function of all art lies in fact in breaking through the narrow and torturous enclosure of the finite, in which man is immersed while living here below, and in providing a window on the infinite for his hungry soul.' (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical The Function of Art)

During this age when fewer parish churches are providing windows on the infinite, some of us may be hungry for the kind of art that breaks through our narrow little worlds. 'Souls ennobled, elevated and prepared by art,' continues Pope Pius XII, 'are thus better disposed to receive the religious truths and the grace of Jesus Christ. This is one of the reasons why the Sovereign Pontiff, and the Church in general, honored and continues to honor art and to offer its works as a tribute of human beings to God's Majesty in His churches, which have always been abodes of art and religion at the same time. (Pope Pius XII)

For a deeper exploration of the function of art in sacred spaces, see Reclaim Beauty. 

And for some real holy cards, click here to check out the treasures at Holy Card Heaven!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Visit To A Cloister Garden

'Was not this entire visible universe made for your dwelling?... The earth was adorned with flowers, groves and fruit; and the constant marvelous variety of lovely living things was created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest sad solitude destroy the joy of God's new creation.' (St. Peter Chrysologus)

The Passionist Nuns of St. Joseph Monastery recently shared the above quote, along with delightful photos of their summer garden.

So what are we waiting for?

Let's visit them by clicking here!

Painting: Liebermann