'It is necessary to understand that the whole of our life must be an 'advent,' a vigilant awaiting of the final coming of Christ. To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize Him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward Him Who already came, Who will come, and Who comes continuously.'
Pope St John Paul II
Painting: Martin von Feuerstein, US public domain due to age
'To eyes which know how to find it, there is in the least luxuriant season of the year a beauty which is entirely sufficient. And to the perception of a nun, the quiet and solemnity of a convent contain all the loveliness she needs. Just as there is no season without its particular beauty, so there is no health of soul without beauty; and the beauty of holiness is the truest and loveliest of all.' (Lathrop, A Story of Courage,p.2; punctuation slightly edited)
'Our master, 'the world,' has trained us to beds of roses - if we can
afford them, or get credit for them. He has taught us to follow
luscious waltz tunes and broken rules; he has loaded us with wasted
hours, with muscles relaxed, and with flesh tender with indulgence.'
(A Story of Courage, p.4)
Entering cloistered life is refusing to be mastered any longer by the world. It is turning ourselves over to another Master. This act of turning is what has long drawn me. Can I, a woman whose vocation is in the world, truly make such a turn?
I've asked that question for years now. Have I found the answer? I can only say: I am finding.
I consider these things today and ask myself:
- Do I identify with being 'trained to beds of roses?' What does this mean to me?
- What enchanting, mesmerizing 'tunes' of the world am I following?
- Am I emulating those (perhaps in the media) who make it seem okay to break God's rules?
- How am I wasting time? What steps can I take to change this?
- How are my prayer-muscles? What can I do to tone up my prayer life?
'God trains.... to laws that cannot be broken; to a system that holds back from sin... to hours devoted to the good of the many... and to a sight which can see, whenever the spirit hungers and thirsts for it, Christ upon the cross, dying to save mankind.' (A Story of Courage, p.4)
A generous friend 'just could not stand waiting' until Christmas to send me a particular gift. So before Advent has even begun, I have received a modern reprint of an 1894 book. It's a hefty paperback the size of a large textbook, and is a historical account of the second oldest convent for nuns in the United States. Which sounds rather dry, I know, but the opening chapter - to me - is anything but that. Perhaps because I've spent time in this semi-cloistered monastery, I was glued from the very first sentence. The introductory chapters share a visit the authors made to the monastery in the then-dashingly-modern 1890s. I found the descriptions so accurate and timeless that reading them was like visiting the buildings and grounds this very day.
The monastery, situated in the bustling Georgetown suburb of Washington DC, is one I have written of here before. Its location in a busy city strikes me as the perfect analogy of the life of a cloistered heart. You can find some of my own impressions at An Ideal Set Up and Singing in the City.
I am writing this post primarily so I can link back to it, because I'd like to use snippets from the book as jumping off points for further reflections on the inner cloister.
The book is A Story of Courage: Annals of the Georgetown Convent of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by George Parsons Lathrop and Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (yes, THAT Rose Hawthorne Lathrop - we can read about her by clicking here). Publication date: 1894. My edition is from Nabu Public Domain Reprints, which states: 'You may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.'
I know we are heading into a busy season, but like my generous book-giving friend, I just cannot stand waiting! So I hope to begin this next little journey into heart-cloister within a day or two....
'The time of year at which we first saw the convent was perhaps
not unfitting for our first impressions; since the December
leaflessness, the unornamented aspect of the ground and the stone walls,
whose vines were mere shadows, typified the stern simplicity of the
Photo: Cloister garden, Georgetown Visitation Monastery, Washington DC, by Nancy Shuman, 1992
I am not going far back into the archives for today's 'Revisiting Wednesday' - only to this past January. I ran across this yesterday, just when I needed some encouragement...
I have been 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
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.
Armed with only his little bag of five
smooth stones, young David went into battle against the powerful warrior
Goliath. David took one of his stones, hurled it with a sling, and
struck Goliath. The stone hit the giant and Goliath fell on the
ground. Thus was seen the truth of David's words declaring that 'it is
not by sword or spear that the Lord saves. For the battle is the Lord's...'
We may feel spiritually 'young,' we may feel powerless, we may feel anything but
able to combat forces coming against ourselves, the world, and those we
love. The truth, however, is that we have been given the weapon - the
'stone' - of prayer. Even a simple aspiration, prayed from the heart
and in effect hurled against the giants, has much more power than we can
We each have our little pouch of stones. Simple aspirations, the Mass,
prayer with Scripture, the Liturgy of the Hours, songs of praise, the
rosary, adoration, chaplets, fasting and sacrifice; yes, each of us has
our own little bag of stones...
I pray that God will gather together our prayers, blending their
fragrance as incense before Him. There are so many stones in our
pouches, possibly more than we realize.
I pray we will uncover and practice using our 'stones...'
This is a repost from our achives. It is linked to Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for 'It's Worth Revisiting Wednesday.'
'We absorb more and more of His Spirit until - in the midst of
crowds or secluded in our cells - we are alone with our Master and
inseparable Guide. Jesus Christ is very nigh to the soul that seeks and
loves Him, and she speaks to Him in the inner cloister of her heart... She is at
home with God, and He with her. Jesus Christ is no far off Divinity,
but very nigh, dwelling in her heart.'
(from Sheltering the Divine Outcast, by a Religious, Peter Reilly Co., Philadelphia, 1931, pp. 14-15)
'The Heart, a censered fire whence fuming chants aspire, Is fed with oozed gums of precious pain; And unrest swings denser, denser, the fragrance from that censer With the heart-strings for its quivering chain.'
(Francis Thompson, The Sere of the Leaf, quoted in Burnt Out Incense by M. Raymond OCSO, PJ Kenedy + Sons, 1949)
Minute by minute heroics is a good way to cooperate with God in constructing the monastery of the heart. Each minute can provide a 'stone' of opportunity. Each can be lived well (perhaps even heroically) for God.
you seen how that imposing building was built? One brick upon another.
Thousands. But, one by one. And bags of cement, one by one. And blocks
of stone, each of them insignificant compared with the massive whole.
And beams of steel. And men working, the same hour, day after day....
Have you seen how that imposing building was built? ... By dint of
little things!' (St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way 823) I am being given thousands, millions, of minutes to live on
this earth. Each is insignificant compared to the whole .. but each
one, added to each other one, is absolutely necessary to make up my
life. I have the minutes, I have the mortar of free will, and I have the
Architect's plan of Scripture.
I have recognized one seemingly inconsequential way in
which I haven't been following the plan all that well. Sometimes I grab a
few perfectly good, newly minted minutes, and slap the mortar on them
with a harrumph. I have not considered this activity significant at all,
because my harrumphs have been directed at 'things.' At inanimate objects
like misbehaving computers, spoons that leap out of my hand onto the
floor, remotes that play hide-and-seek.
am anything but heroic when these items play their tricks. Huffs and
grumbles and loud sighs pop right out of me in search of the offending
object. 'Take THAT harrumph, you rotten, jumping spoon!'
I don't do this when others are around. At least - not when they're in
the same room. Or, well, not when anyone is actually paying attention.
Or, well, that's how it started. It began as a casual harrumph here, an
innocent snap there. So what if it became something of a habit? It
isn't as if it's hurting anything. Except, of course, a few hyperactive
But the development of such behavior is far from heroic. It has pulled
me away from 'heroism' toward a grumbling, critical habit of internal
whining. If I let it, it can alter the way I look at life. It certainly
is not seeing things "through the grille." Having realized this, I am asking for grace to overcome my
misuse of minutes... each one precious, each one a minute in
which I have the chance to be heroic. Not just passably good enough, but
heroic. I don't have to give in to big sins, and I don't have to indulge in moments of whining.
If I am tempted to grumble - why, look at the opportunity I'm being
given! I can resist the temptation, and I can thank God in that very
moment. Thank You, Lord, that I have a computer on which to write of
Your goodness, and if that device is acting up right now, give me
patience to deal with it and to turn this moment to good. Thank You, Lord, for plenty of
food to eat. Thank You
that I don't have to eat it with my hands.
And thank You for a nice, washable floor to catch all my leaping spoons.
'What does it mean to be saints? Who is called to be a saint? Often it is thought that holiness is a goal reserved for a few chosen ones. St. Paul, however, speaks of God's great plan and affirms: '(God) chose us in him, before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before him.' And he speaks of all of us..... I would like to invite you to open yourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit, who transforms our life, to be, we also, pieces of the great mosaic of holiness that God is creating in history, so that the Face of Christ will shine in the fullness of its brilliance....' (Pope Benedict XVI, 2011; click here to continue)