Friday, July 31, 2015

He Calls. He Says. He Is.

I have heard it said that Scripture is God's love letter. I opened it today with that thought in mind.

The following is what unfolded.... 
            '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)'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the One Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty!' (Revelation 1:8)'Every hair of your head has been counted, so do not be afraid of anything.'(Matthew 10:30)'For I know well the plans I have for you... plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call Me, when you go to pray to Me, I will listen to you.' (Jeremiah 29:11-12)
     'Whoever drinks the water I give him will never be thirsty; no, the water I give him shall become a fountain within him, leaping up to provide eternal life.' (John 4:14) 
     'I Myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to Me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in Me shall ever thirst.' (John 6:35)
     'I am the true vine.' (John 15:1)
     'I am the good shepherd.' (John 10:14)
     'I am the resurrection and the life.' (John 11:25)
     'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.' (John 14:6)
     'And you, Who do you say that I am?...' (Mark 8:29)

Paintings: 'Jesus Knocking' and Winslow Homer's 'Girl Seated' used in a digital composite

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Revisiting Boundaries

I am enclosed within the will of God.  It is a sweet thought, isn't it?  I have chosen to live within the boundaries of God's will as these have already been built for me, to protect me.  God has given Scripture and Church teaching to show me the boundaries...  to fence me in, so to speak.  If I remain within this enclosure, I am safe from spiritual harm.

But oh, the world outside God's will can look so appealing.  Those who live out there, "free" of the constraints imposed by the "thou shalts" and the "thou shalt nots"... well, they appear to be pretty happy.  They're choosing their own paths without regard to God, and sometimes making sport of those who try to live according to Church teaching. They're telling bawdy stories, drinking to excess, and engaging in behavior that the Bible and the Church clearly assure us is wrong.  This is the way the world is today, we're often told. Anyone who doesn't keep up is a killjoy.

If I'm not inclined to join in some of these particular out-of-enclosure-frolics, I may have other temptations.  To gossip, perhaps. To be unkind. To speak harshly, be slothful, give in to anger, be self-focused... oh, how the list goes on.  The world outside God's will can at times look awfully appealing.  And after all, I'm not sealed up in a cage.  There's no lock on my enclosure wall....

Day by day, I have a choice to make.  A choice not just to enter "the enclosure of God's will" once and for all - but to remain within it.  Whether or not I actually venture outside my enclosure, I do find myself craning my neck (all too often) to see how green the grass looks on the other side.

I find that the only hopes for me are prayer, reliance upon grace, and determination to accept God's help to avoid what used to be called "near occasions of sin."

Which are much nearer to us than they were a few decades ago. And they are still tailor made to kill true joy. 

"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 12:2)

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

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Painting: Jehan Georges Vibert, Sneaking a Peek 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Am I Serious?

'Most people cannot leave the world in a bodily sense, but every follower of 
Christ who is serious about genuine growth must leave the spirit of the world.'  

Thomas Dubay SM, Fire Within, Ignatius Press, 1989, p. 81

Painting: Ludwig Sckell, in US public domain due to age

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Back In The Habit. A Field Trip.

It's a lovely day for a field trip. A lovely day to visit friends in the physical cloister, and to hear (anew) what the privilege of wearing a habit can mean to them.....

Click this line to find 'Clothed in Passion-Wisdom'

'I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.' (Isaiah 61:10)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Only God's Grace

Continuing to look back over old letters, I realize some things don't change all that much. Have I shared the following here before? I cannot remember. It was written in a letter more than twenty years ago, when I was going through a time of physical discomfort and distress.

'I ask for enclosure in the will of God, and flesh fights valiantly against such death. It whines and complains and tries to feel sorry for itself. I recently wrote that I was not 'beating my fists against the grillwork' of God's will as I had in times past; this time I've been coming at the grillwork with chain saws and hammers. But all the while my will is given over to God, to preferring His will over mine and His plans to mine, choosing to stay in the enclosure in spite of all of flesh's clamorings. By an act of my will I have chosen to trust that if I say I want to be in His holy will, then that is where I am indeed. He does not give snakes to those who ask for fish. And so I choose to trust Him, knowing He sees the whole picture and I do not. I have actually become grateful that the choice is tough, because if it were easy it would not be the free choice that in fact it is.  And I know I cannot make this choice. I can never do so.  Only God's grace poured out can enable me to do so... '

No, some things do not change. It remains true - it shall always remain true - that only God's grace can enable me to make the choice for His will, no matter what I may ever face.

Only God's grace.

Painting: Charles West Cope

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Opening the Vein

One facet of monastic life that looks 'greener on the other side of the fence' to me is the call to prayer. The bell rings, it's prayer time, and there's no putting it off. No opening a newspaper, no checking the morning news, no doing 'just this one thing' before settling down to prayer.

I don't know about you, but if I do 'just one thing' before giving God a few minutes, all too often one thing turns into ten, and before I know it 'things' have crowded out prayer altogether. Again.

Of course, there are important reasons why some of us need to squeeze prayer into a To-Go-Box from the minute we get out of bed. Babies need feeding, children must be cared for, work cannot always be delayed. But these are not the things that take up my personal time, not anymore.  Even when I have a busy day ahead, I can usually grab at least a few minutes to NOT turn on morning news and NOT check e-mail and to instead give that little chunk of time to God.

But do I?

I will just say this:  it's a struggle.

Sometimes I long for the discipline of a bell. I long for the accountability of those who will notice if I'm not in my choir stall. Oh, I know my mind might wander if I were in fact standing there, breviary open before me and my mind still half asleep. But at least I'd BE there. I would be praising God, and giving Him a chance to whisper...  something... to my sleepy heart.

I have compared the first prayer of morning to receiving an i.v. of saline, once, in preparation for childbirth. Wondering why this was necessary, I was told it was in case I needed medication administered quickly at any time during the birth.  The doctor wanted to have an open vein, ready to receive help on a moment's notice.

Years later, the memory of that came back to me as I pondered the grace of morning prayer. If I pray, even briefly, early in the morning, I am in effect 'opening the vein.'  Once I've begun conversation with God, prayers on-the-go are somehow easier throughout the day. I believe inspirations from God are more easily grasped as well.

Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise.  

'Live on in Me, as I do in you.  No more than a branch can bear fruit of itself apart from the vine can you bear fruit apart from Me.  I am the Vine, you are the branches.  He who lives in me, and I in him, will produce abundantly, for apart from Me you can do nothing.'  (John 15:4-5) 

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

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Painting: Grunwald, Ave Maria, in US public domain due to age 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

From Two Bent Knees

'Neither theological knowledge nor social action alone is enough to keep us in love with Christ unless both are preceded by a personal encounter with Him. Theological insights are gained not only from between the covers of a book, but from two bent knees before an altar. 
The Holy Hour becomes like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the foul and fetid atmosphere of the world.'

Venerable Fulton Sheen

Monday, July 20, 2015

I Must Decide

Today I happened across something I wrote just as the world was entering the 21st century. The questions I asked myself then are ones I'm asking again right now.....

Oh, how much time we waste! We live in an anesthetized society, one not recognizing the truth that we are all called to live in the will of God. We go about like people in a stupor.  

Yet we are called to walk in the footsteps of the saints gone before us, the ones who came out of their societal denial and used their allotment of time for God. Ours is not an easy task. There is no more time to walk with one foot in the world and one in the will of God. We must decide. 

We must walk in the footsteps of those who, in their own times, were not popular. Oh, saints are popular enough now, when we read about them in biographies, when we gaze upon statues of them in the churches blessed to still have such things. But the truth is, few were popular in their own times. Why? Largely because they reminded the world that what we GET out of life is not what really matters.

I ask myself: how much of this thinking have I, myself, bought into?

What is the motivation behind what I do with my moments and hours?

What is the focus of my life?

If I knew God were coming for me tomorrow, what would I do today?

Have I been on the fence, perhaps not fully given over to the world ... but not altogether ready to abandon myself to God? 

I cannot walk with one foot in the world and one foot in God's will. I must decide.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What a Wonder is Your Mother

'What a wonder is your mother! The Lord entered her, and became a Servant; the Word entered her, and became silent within her; Thunder entered her, and His voice was still; the Shepherd of all entered her, and He became a Lamb ... the Rich went in, He came out poor; the Most High went in, He came out lowly. Brightness went into her and clothed Himself and came forth in the form of One despised... He Who gives food to all went in, and got hunger; He Who gives all to drink went in and got thirst. From her came forth naked the One Who clothes all.'

St. Ephraem the Syrian

Painting: Eduard Veith, 1896

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Revisiting Teeny Tiny Martyrs

I was raised, in Catholic school, on stories of martyrs. These were gilded, shimmering beings who (I just knew) had floated through their lives on a plane above the rest of us, smiling at their hangmen and singing for joy in prison cells.

It did not occur to me that the wounds of such heroes might actually hurt. Nor that anyone called to such glory would not feel instantly glorious. Oh no. I was sure these shining ones were granted special dispensations from pain.

I even brought them, sometimes, into my young world of pretend.  Crossing arms across my chest, gazing wistfully at the sky with head tilted back, I glided across my front yard confident that I looked exactly like the painting on a holy card. 'Goodbye world... so long, family.... farewell, neighbors playing cowboys. I bequeath to you the cars in my sandbox and my swing hung on a tree and my black cocker spaniel.  As for me, I'm off to dance amid the flames.....'   

Fast forward many years. As a grownup in today's world, I recognize the truth that martyrdom hurts.  Prison cells are far from comfortable. Real people in real flames probably don't feel like dancing. 

I also recognize something else. I have finally gotten the message that sainthood isn't only for some.  It is for every single one of us. And martyrdom? Well, that's not a word we're tossing around lightly these days.

I have been thinking a lot, again, of the littlest martyrdoms. The ones you and I face, day after day after day. The thought of these little deaths is sticking with me, and I am seeing them more and more as opportunities. Chances to lay down my comfort, my popularity, my reputation, my pursuit of fun and luxury and entertainment; chances to stand up for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

'That pain? You can offer it for this intention'
'When you're insulted for Me, choose to count it joy'
'Pray for My Church'
'Die to your own will in this matter'
'Intercede for an end to abortion'
'Take a stand for My truth about marriage'
'Pray for Godliness in the world'
'Do not participate in this evil'
'Don't react to that person in anger'
'No one is standing up for Me. Will you?'
'The world is in trouble. Do you see that? Will you let Me show you that? Will you work and pray and sacrifice for My truth even when it costs you?'

My little deaths to self are, when compared to true martyrdom, oh so tiny. My steps toward sainthood are wobbly and small.

But I am failing God if I don't take those steps. I'm failing Him when I don't cooperate with His call.

You and I? We may feel spiritually teeny.

But we have the call to be heroes. We have the call to be saints.

Painting: Charles Amable Lenoir, Joan of Arc

This is a slightly edited repost from 2014. It is being linked with Theology Is A Verb and Reconciled To You for 'It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday'   

Sunday, July 12, 2015

In The Cloister Garden

'Our mortifications, humiliations, prayers - in a word, all the exercises we practice, what are they but acts of virtue, which are like so many beautiful flowers, that send up a perfume extremely sweet before the Divine Majesty? Therefore, we may well say that religion is a garden all sown with flowers, very pleasing to the sight, and very salutary to those who wish to inhale their fragrance.'
St. Francis de Sales

Painting: Allston Collins, Convent Thoughts

Saturday, July 11, 2015

To Die Of Joy

Today I came across a letter I'd received, years ago, from a priest who lived on a continent far away. As someone with a worldwide ministry, largely to underdeveloped countries and in a few lands not tolerant of Christianity, this man had witnessed trials I could only imagine.

Father wrote:  'I have been wondering whether the battle rages around the Mass. It does, for the Mass is Christ and He is the focus of hostility. What can we do? Well, love and live our Mass, even when it is not so readily accessible. We can give witness to our great desire and longing for the Mass, as Christians have in all times of persecution. We know the Mass endures and survives. The testimony of persecutions and martyrs confirms this. But like those Christians, we may have to suffer loss and sacrifice for and in our Mass...' 

I read this now and ask myself:  how often do I take the gift of Mass for granted? Do I look at it as the profound grace it is - or has it become, for me, simply routine?

Do I focus so much on a church interior I do not like and a style of music I do not like that I forget that Jesus Himself is right there in front of me at the Consecration?

When the homily is more about the local football team than about God, do I grit my teeth and sit in judgement - or do I silently pray for God's word to be spoken and heard?

Do I make every attempt to pray from my heart?

Do I thank God for the opportunity to be at Mass, and do I ever pray for those who are thoroughly aching to have such a privilege?

I look at these questions and find my responses to them (if I'm honest) sobering. 

What a grace it would be to, as St. Jean Vianney prayed, really understand the Mass. Even if only for an instant.

I would gladly risk dying of joy.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Thank You Note

Some years ago, I wrote the words below to a community of cloistered nuns. I was writing in thanksgiving for the Sisters' apostolate that had, over a number of years, been a steady beacon of God's love in my life.

Someone brought this letter to my attention again today, and it occurred to me: 

there may be someone in a cloister reading this very post. There might also be active Religious, or priests, whose entire lives are being used for the glory of God and the service of His people. If you happen to be one of those, I want to thank YOU for your prayer, your service, your constant witness to the love of Christ.

You will probably never know, this side of Heaven, how many lives you touch.
'It is good to be able to share with one another our commitment to God's will. My vocation as a laywoman committed to living Jesus in the world is strengthened by your vocation to live Jesus in the cloister. And this is the way it's supposed to work, of course. For in the body of Christ, some are hands, some are feet....'

Thank you.

Painting by Fra Angelico

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Here, We Can Sing

How many times have I posted the video below? Four? Five? Nine?

Whyever in the world (you ask) would I share the same thing over and over?

Because this captures, more than anything I have ever found, The Cloistered Heart as I have 'seen' it. I do not have words for how this video grabs me. When he stands in the midst of the crowd and begins to raise his hands, my heart is raised as well, and I come face to face with the absolute essence of what I have so long 'seen.'

'The Cloistered Heart is a city sort of vision. We must learn to sing the songs of God in a land removed from Him. To sing the Magnificat even as we live the Pieta. Ours are gentle melodies in a land that has forgotten the song...'

No matter where we are, no matter how dense the crowds or chaotic the traffic, in the cloisters of our hearts we can sing. In the cloisters of our hearts we can praise. In the cloisters of our hearts, we can remember the Savior's loving song.



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Revisiting Shadows

“As the wall remains the same however many shadows pass across it, and as the looking glass remains the same however many changes of expression it reflects, so the soul that is held fast in God remains uninfluenced by the waving shapes and images that come and go.” (Dom Hubert Van Zeller, The Yoke of Divine Love, Templegate, Springfield IL, 1957, p. 226)

Sin casts shadows. Living in the world as I do, I can't help but see them. Shadows of sin wave daily across my enclosure walls. I walk into a room with a TV and I might hear them. I step into a store and they are there. 

Wanting to live enclosed in the will of God, I choose the boundaries of that will in circumstance after circumstance. Yet unless I run away from everything in the world - unless I run away from my own self with my
sinful inclinations, memories, and attitudes - the shadows of sin remain. 

"Be intent on things above rather than on things of earth," Scripture tells me, and I want to do exactly that. "Put to death whatever in your nature is rooted in earth:  fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires, and that lust which is called idolatry.  These are the sins which provoke God's wrath.  Your own conduct was once of this sort, when these sins were your very life.  You must put that aside now:  all the anger and quick temper, the malice, the insults, the foul language.  Stop lying to one another.  What you have done is put aside your old self with its past deeds and put on a new man, one who grows in knowledge as he is formed anew in the image of his Creator."   (Colossians 3:2-10)

'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 12:2

Today I make the choice to live within the boundaries of God's will. In this time, in this place, I make the choice.

And the shadows? They will be there. They will tempt and remind and whisper; they'll try to frighten and condemn. But when it comes right down to it, they do not bring anything into the enclosure. They are only reflections of things outside.

Shadows are just shadows, after all.    

This is a repost from 2014. It is being linked with Theology Is A Verb and Reconciled To You for 'It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday' 

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