Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Revisiting What God Really Said

Reviewing the basics of the cloistered heart analogy, I'm reminded that our 'call' is that of every Christian.  The analogy we use is simply a way of helping us envision it.

Each of us is called to live according to the will of God. Our Creator placed us on this earth and gave us instructions on how to live (Genesis 2:16-17). It was pretty simple, really, and absolutely do-able.  God said, in essence:  I have put before you all you will ever need. A splendid bounty. You don't even have to work for it. All I ask is that you trust Me, trust that I know what's best for you, and just do not eat of that one single solitary tree. 


All these millenia later, we still face the same basic choice. Because of that first ooops, we were not born into Eden - but thanks to Our Savior, we do have an eternal garden of glory awaiting us. And the way I look at it, we also have an opportunity to live, even on earth, in the best location possible. A place from which we can look with anticipation toward our eternal Home. A place in which we can be assured that God is ordering our circumstances (even when we see them as painful or murky) toward nothing but good.

Of course, I'm speaking of the will of God, the boundaries of which are mapped out for us in His Word and through His Church.

Yes, this is very basic stuff.  But oh, how easy it is to lose sight of basics! Which is why I'm grateful for the imagery of enclosure, and of grillwork, because these help me as I try to practice the basics day by day.

In circumstance after circumstance, we are presented with the question: 'Did God really say?'  This threads through our culture, usually as a general assumption that He said no such things. 'In this enlightened, scientific, sophisticated age, do you mean to tell me you think all that stuff in the Bible is really true? You think God really said? Why don't you just open your eyes and judge for yourself!?'

'The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom...'  (Genesis 3:6)

The woman saw. The woman judged for herself. She could see no reason not to eat from that particular tree except for one teeny tiny detail, surely a small matter that could be overlooked.   

God said.  


Monday, September 28, 2015

What Do I Do Now?

'God's will is to peacefully do, at each moment, what at that moment ought to be done.'
St. Katherine Drexel

Painting at top by Eduard Grützner Brotzeit,1908
Photo at bottom from Pixabay

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Visit

The Eucharistic Visit

'The Visit is a meeting of our soul
and of our whole being with Jesus.
It is the creature meeting the Creator;
the disciple before the Divine Master;
the patient with the Doctor of souls;
the poor one appealing to the Rich One;
the thirsty one drinking at the Font;
the weak before the Almighty;
the tempted seeking a sure Refuge;
the blind person searching for the Light;
the friend who goes to the True Friend;
the lost sheep sought by the Divine Shepherd;
the wayward heart who finds Wisdom;
the bride who finds the Spouse of the soul;
the 'nothing' who finds the All;
the afflicted who finds the Consoler;
the seeker who finds life's Meaning.'

Blessed James Alberione

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Life as a Choir Stall

Looking over photos of choir stalls, I've been struck by how different they are from one to another.  Some are carved and ornate. Some are simple and bare. And a few look decidedly uncomfortable. 

Choir stalls are chairs for monastics (nuns or monks) to pray in. They are normally built to fit the purpose, the space, and even the time in which they're designed. Yet one thing remains the same, always. These are places made for praying. These are locations where a soul comes to meet with God.

In some ways, the externals of our individual lives resemble choir stalls. Having been made for communication with God, we do that communicating within the surroundings in which we find ourselves at any given time. Much about these surroundings is assigned to us: our families, the jobs we must do, our health. 

Our surroundings change as years go by. Just as those in a monastery have different stalls assigned to them from time to time (in some monasteries this change occurs yearly), we find the circumstances in which we live shifting. In some seasons we are robust, active, healthy. In others, we may feel decidedly uncomfortable. On some days we come to prayer cradled in spiritual consolation.  On others, our prayer feels stark and dusty and dry.

Fortunately, lives of prayer are portable. When our 'choir stall assignments' shift, our prayer can be molded to fit into the changing circumstances. We can pray in the silence of a Church, and we can pray while we're diapering a newborn. We can be prayerful students, wives, dads, engineers, retirees, nurses, grandparents.

Our surroundings correspond to the life-demands and times in which we find ourselves. Things around us bend and change, yet one thing remains the same - always.

We were created for communion with God. Just like choir stalls, we have been made for praying.

Whatever our circumstances at any given time, our hearts can be places of prayer.

Painting of woman and child: Édouard de Beaumont
Painting of man:  Albert Anker

Friday, September 18, 2015

What I Did Not Miss

I was eager for prayer time yesterday. Newly aware of what I might be missing when I don't take such time, I'd enthusiastically scheduled a block of minutes for total, uninterrupted concentration on God. I normally try to do this on a daily basis, but the timing of that can be haphazard, and thus can get pushed later and later on any given day. Yesterday, however, I was ready and waiting. I had even dug through my bookshelves for an unused journal (I have several waiting in the wings) in order to make notes of What I Did Not Miss.

I sat with a list of suggestions on how to pray with Scripture (shared in our last post, from the writings of 'A Religious'), and opened my Bible to a reading from the Gospel of Luke. I read a few lines slowly, and waited. I read the lines again, and waited. I asked Jesus what He wanted to reveal to me, and I waited. 'Keep on doing this until the words begin to live,' the anonymous Religious had suggested. So I did.

The words I read were good words, holy words, straight-from-the-written-Word-of-God-words, and I received them with gratitude. I thanked God for the words, and for His written word, and for gifts I was aware of and gifts I didn't know I was receiving. But did the words live? From my perspective, that did not seem to be the case.

However, from the perspective of the way things really ARE, the words were alive indeed - and I knew that. 'For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.' (Matthew 4:12)

Did I feel any different because of the words I had read, or because of the prayers I prayed as a result of reading them? No, I cannot say that I did. Is the word of God living and active even when I do not feel it?  Yes, absolutely.

Perhaps it can be compared to an unborn baby. Such a one lives within its mother for months before its movements can be felt. Mommy goes through her days unaware of the leaps, stretches, yawns, kicks and punches of the active person living inside her. Baby's life does not depend upon Mommy's constant awareness of it. Baby is alive, and that is simply an objective fact.

God's word is alive, and that is a objective fact. Not everyone accepts it as fact, but that doesn't make it any less true. God has said it. 'The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body.... In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet His children, and talks with them.' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 103-104)

I am happy to report that in my concentrated prayer time today, I felt words of Scripture stirring and leaping in my heart and mind. I had some sense of the Father coming to meet me, His child. But it's interesting. That is not the experience I've felt drawn to report on here.

I would rather share my intense gratitude for the gifts of yesterday's prayer. The gift of knowing, maybe in a deeper way, that God's word IS living and active. The gift of knowing that God has gifts for me, whether or not I see or hear or feel them. The gift of acceptance of whatever God wants to give me, or ask of me, or do with me, forever.

How glad I am that I took that block of time to be with God.

There were gifts, solid gifts. I would hate to have missed them.


Painting: Robert Lewis Reid

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What Am I Missing?

Taking a block of time for prayer each day can be a life-changer. Yet keeping the commitment to do so is a struggle for me. I sometimes put it off until I'm ready to fall into bed, and then find myself omitting it entirely.

I wonder what I might have missed on such days. What inspiration, guidance and insights did God have waiting for me? Were there special gifts? Was there a precious jewel that I left, ignored and unwrapped, while I ooohed and aaahed over the world's offerings of glitter and plastic?

We have talked before, here, about prayer with Scripture. We've also used numerous quotes by the writer known as 'A Religious.'  Today we will combine the two, as we sit at the feet at this anonymous Religious and listen.....

'1.  Take your New Testament..... Forget everything around you and be, for the time, alone with Him whose life is described here by the Spirit of Love.  He Himself addresses you from these pages with words of profound wisdom and divine compassion; words that have illuminated the centuries of human history with heavenly truth, and melted millions of human hearts to tears of compunction and love, nay more, words that have bound souls to Him with the strongest bonds that could be forged on earth, and thus bound, enabled them to suffer torments for His love....

'2.  Read some words or a few lines very slowly, read them again, and then wait for a moment and ask Jesus what He wants here to reveal to you about His love.  Read them once more, and talk them over quietly with yourself and with Jesus... Keep on doing this until the words begin to live. Be like the lover of music who plays a short, beautiful melody, and repeats it, again and again, until his soul is transformed by the harmony.  

'3.  Meditation from the New Testament will make us know Our Lord as scarcely anything else can do, for the original Author is God Himself, and it contains the history of the Word make flesh, Jesus Christ... The innermost reason for the fruitfulness of God's Word is that Christ is ever living; He is ever the God Who saves and quickens... Love, become great and burning by contact with God, takes possession of the powers of the soul, renders it strong and generous to do perfectly all the Father's will, to give itself up wholly to the divine good pleasure.  What better or more fruitful prayer than this?  What treasures await the searchers of the Gospels!  Oh, if only we knew the gift of God!" (from Fervorinos From Galilee's Hills, compiled by a Religious, Pelligrini, Australia, 1936, pp. 26-29)

If only we knew, indeed. I can imagine a giant pile of gifts just stacked up, waiting, gifts of joy and strength and wisdom that I've shoved into a corner; gifts in packages gathering dust.

Even now, a new one for today is being wrapped and labeled and offered. Will I toss it aside, ignore it, say I have a lot to do but thank You anyway?  Or will I open it?

I choose.   

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


Painting: Charles West Cope

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Center of My Longings

'The country in which I live is not my native country; THAT lies elsewhere, and it must always be the center of my longings.'

St. Therese of Lisieux

Friday, September 11, 2015

In This World, There is a World

      'In the world there is an inner world, a second world which every Christian must 
      avoid, for it knows not God, and the devil is its ruler. 
      It was of this world that Jesus Christ said; 'I pray not for the world' (John 17:9). 
      In this world are found those who live solely for vanity and pleasure; 
      It is where the one aim is to please and flatter, 
      Where there is hardly anything that is innocent and good, 
      And where people glory in what ought to make us ashamed.'

St. Claude de la Colombiere

Painting: José García Ramos, Leaving a Masqued Ball

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Homemaker's Vespers

While our Sisters and Brothers in monasteries are chanting Vespers (usually between 4:30 and 6:00 pm), we who live 'in the world' may well be in the busiest time of our day. The world, at Vespers-time, is right in the middle of rush hour. It is when many are leaving work, pouring into roads and trains to make the journey home. Some of us are preparing an evening meal, knowing that growling tummies will not be soothed if we hide away in prayer corners to sing and chant praise.

So we do what must be done. Many times we're content to be exactly where we are. Sometimes, however, the grass can look greener inside the monastic fence, and I will admit that 'rush hour,' for me, is a time when my own grass can seem seriously withered. This is due in large part (for me) to a kind of physical and mental lagginess that tends to hit in late afternoon, and has for as long as I can remember.  It's the time of day when I'm tired, draggy, and most likely to feel, well: grumbly.  

Through the years, I've learned that I am not the only person to be washed out at that time. Yet this is when people have to get themselves home from work, food must be prepared, and children may need a bit of extra referee-ing.

When the body is exhausted and the mind is reeling from a day's work, even the humdrum tasks of late afternoon can seem immense. 'I remember reading,' said our friend Rose some time ago, 'that obedience to one's superior is more meritorious than all the self-imposed mortifications, fastings and prayers. Then I realized my superior is really my vocation as a wife and mother. Therefore, my duties and responsibilities of motherhood must come first. And, done with the right intentions (as St. Francis de Sales says, 'for the greater glory of God'), all my actions are lifted up in prayer.'

Those in a cloister come to Vespers out of obedience. They gather to pray when they feel like doing so, and when they do not.  

When my day starts to bend toward evening, it is time for a particular kind of 'Vespers.'  It's a time when I can offer my duties, my care for those around me, any rush-hour hassles I may face, and even my own dragginess, to God.  

By being made into an offering, these can become my evening prayer.

'Some people might think it contradictory to speak of 'contemplative' in the same sentence as 'mother of a very large family.' But it is the contemplative spirit that has helped me survive the chaos that is natural when raising a number of children.... The cloister in my heart is a place of refuge.  It is a place where I can retreat from the world no matter where I am; in the middle of a crowded mall, or in a busy grocery store, or in my own kitchen.' - Rose


Painting by Von Bornin

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

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Like a Little Candle

'I want to shine 
like a little candle
before His altar.'
St. Therese of Lisieux

Photo: National Shrine of Divine Mercy, 
Stockbridge MA, by C Wells

Friday, September 4, 2015

In This Palace the Great King Lodges

'Within us there is a palace of immense magnificence. The entire edifice is built of gold and precious stones....truly there is no building of such great beauty as a pure soul, filled with virtues, and the greater these virtues, the brighter these stones sparkle... 

'In this palace the great King lodges, Who has been pleased to become your Guest...  He sits there on a throne of tremendous value: your heart.'  

St. Teresa of Avila

Painting at bottom by George Henry Boughton
Photo at top from Pixabay

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Revisiting Patterns

I have sometimes wondered what might have happened if, during my long-ago attempts at sewing, I had simply followed the directions. (I was notoriously lazy about doing so). Not only would I have worn skirts that didn't occasionally split at the seams, I might also now be the custodian of future family heirlooms. My home could be filled with quilts whose pieces I once took time to measure, and with various embroidered items that would not have fallen victim to my haste. 

Does it seem I'm being too tough on myself? No. I realize it was 'just sewing.'  After all, it's not as if it had eternal implications.

Ah, but all of this is making me think again about 'habits.'  Habits of holiness, yes; and habits of prayer. 

In recent years, I have been appreciating the discipline of faithful prayer times. Ordered ones, regular ones, times of at least 'saying hello.'  It would be rude to get up in the morning and not greet the persons in one's household, yet how often have I begun the day without so much as a nod in God's direction?  He is with me, He's going to stay with me throughout the day, and I can't be bothered to acknowledge His Presence??  Rude.  

Perhaps my own lack of discipline is one reason I appreciate the routines of monastic life. I like the fact that one is reminded to pray, there, at regular intervals. To me, the segments of such prayer are like pieces of a pattern. Together, they form the habit of a monastic day.

I am far from developing such patterns within my own life. But I'm trying. I want to cooperate with God so that I may be clothed in a habit of prayer. In my cloistered heart, I am not doing away with the habit. Nor will I settle for a modified one. I want nothing less than the full habit of God's call to holiness, nothing less than the full habit of prayer. 

I have envisioned intervals of prayer as pattern pieces. Morning prayer, for instance, has a certain outline; but within that, there can be variations. 

What is the outline? Well, for one thing, it is prayer that's done first thing in the morning. It consists of a greeting, and generally an offering of the day to God. But it can be long or short, made up of a memorized prayer or spontaneous, it can be offered silently or aloud. Its basic outline is in some ways the same from person to person - yet the shape changes according to the needs of each one's family and daily life.  

Prayer according to this outline is unique to every individual. Just as the same sleeve pattern can be cut from gray wool or pink silk or paisley-printed corduroy, each one of us will bring our individual praises, offerings or concerns into the outline of our own morning prayer. The important thing is that we bring it. And that we then add other times of prayer TO it, making up a complete day, forming in ourselves a habit of prayer. After all, a garment is no such thing if it's only made of a sleeve. 

Am I asking too much of myself? Not at all. This time it's about more than sewing. It's about staying in ongoing communication with God.

Such a habit is absolutely necessary.  It has eternal implications. 

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 by Harriet Backer

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Our Garden

'Let my beloved come into His garden,' says the spouse of the Canticles...   Now, the Divine Spouse comes into His garden when He comes into a devout soul, for since His delight is to be with the children of men, where can He repose better than in the soul that He has made in His own image and likeness?  In this garden He Himself plants the loving delight that we have in His goodness, and on which we feed our souls.'  (St. Francis de Sales)

Painting at top: Mańkowski, Sister of Charity
Painting at bottom: Cesare Laurenti, 1892