Monday, February 29, 2016

What is Sticking to Me?

I normally quote saints as we explore the inner cloister, but the following words from Anne Morrow Lindbergh are so perfect that I cannot pass them up.  When speaking of an absorbing book, Mrs. Lindbergh wrote: 'You merged into it, so that when you walk out of it you still have bits of it sticking to you. You live through a thin veil of it for awhile - the way, sometimes, you live half a morning through the veil of last night's dream.'  (from Bring Me a Unicorn, 1972, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, NY, p. 225) 

I find these words poignant and descriptive. And I wonder: what books am I merging into?  What writings and other influences am I carrying around, allowing bits of them to stick to me?  What examples and thoughts and ideas am I veiled with as I go through the day?

I desire to see and respond to every circumstance through Scripture and Church teaching, and thankfully there are books for this. I have the Holy Bible to 'merge into,' and I do not have to do this merging on my own. It is the Holy Spirit Who helps Scripture take root in my heart. 

I also appreciate and need examples. Stories of people whose heroism and courage slide over me like a veil, tales of saints that leave bits of zeal stuck to my will. 

'Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about these things.' (Philippians 4:8)

'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)

For personal reflection:

- Have I ever read a book by or about someone given over to God, and yearned to love Him with that person’s abandonment?  

- Have I read (or watched, or listened to) things that have left me confused about God, unsure about truth, or tempted toward sin? Do I ever had a hard time getting such things unstuck from my mind?

(Parts of this post are taken from our archives)

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Painting: Josef Wagner-Höhenberg Lesender, in US public domain due to age

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Revisiting Bells

A monastery bell is ironically consistent about one particular thing.  It always calls for change.  Time to stop one activity and begin another.  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.

"Just as soon as we are familiar with one set of daily bells ringing," wrote one of you, "another set replaces them."  Don't we know the truth of this.  Seasons come and go, bringing school bells and wake-up alarms, church bells and wedding bells, baby cries and phones and stovetop buzzer "bells."  They change with every passing year.

Predictable, familiar, reliable, steady?  No.  Out here, it's just not that way.

Throughout my day, bells of "things that must be done" ring out to me.  The calls to prayer, however, are not automatic.  I must find ways to ring them 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.

For personal reflection:

- What "bells" call to me on a regular basis in this season of my life?  A wake-up alarm? A baby's cries? Monks and nuns look upon the bell as the voice of God in their daily lives. What happens if I look at my various "bells" as God calling me to do His will at any given moment?

- Do I use any particular things as reminders to pray throughout the day?

Reconciled To You and Theology Is A Verb  

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Monday, February 22, 2016

My Letter From God

'The Bible is a letter from Almighty God to His creatures.' (Pope St. Gregory) 

'Indeed, God's word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates and divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the reflections and thoughts of the heart.' (Hebrews 4:12)

Scripture 'is inspired; light and power go out from it to enlighten and strengthen souls that are upright and sincere. Happy are they who meditate on it every day. They drink at the very well-spring of Living Waters. We can never find a more fruitful source of meditation than the words of the Divine Word Himself, as recorded in the Gospels, lending themselves as they do with equal ease to the first lispings of the soul beginning to see God and to the enraptured outpourings of the soul that has found Him.' (from Fervorinos From Galilee's Hills by a Religious, Pelligrini, 1936, p. 24)

From first lispings to enraptured outpourings.... and with stammers and cries in between... I have prayed with Scripture and memorized Scripture and clung to it as if it were a life raft (because, of course, it is).

- Here are a few places where I find Scripture to pray with daily:
    - Mass readings for the day (found by clicking here)
    - Divine Office (found by clicking here) 

- How do I pray with Scripture? I find the following (very brief) video helpful when I need a refresher as to 'how.'

(Video teaching by Jeff Cavins) 

'Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.' (St. Jerome) 

Painting at top of post: Lorenzo Lotto, 'Fra Gregorio Belo di Vicenza' 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

To Set the World on Fire

Painting used: Aime Pez, Familienidylle 1839, digitally altered and cropped

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lingering, Revisited

My dictionary defines 'linger' as 'to continue to stay, as though reluctant to leave.'  It is an intriguing definition for one who wishes to be contemplative.  Contemplatives are lingerers, ones who know that the longer we gaze upon something, the more deeply and fully we actually see it.  Contemplatives have learned through experience that the way to know God is to spend time 'gazing upon Him' in prayer.

I like to linger beside my favorite window.  I recognize, as I look through the glass, that there are two ways of experiencing a view.  One way is to glance briefly toward it.  Another is to sit down and linger.  After awhile, the lingerer becomes aware of things missed in a once-over viewing.  Sun glancing off a parked car, turning light into sharp darts of color.  The first yellow of a daffodil.  A squirrel running gracefully across the lawn.

I am refreshed when I take time to linger with the beauty of nature.  I’m refreshed and changed when I linger with Jesus.  Having spent time with Him, I find that perhaps I see Him just a bit more clearly.  Whether I am aware of it or not, I’ve gotten to know Him better than I knew Him before the time of lingering.  I may even become aware of gifts - inspirations, insights, comfort, serenity - that I would not have experienced had I not lingered. 'I often wait with great graces until towards the end of prayer,' Jesus said to St. Faustina.  Graces wait for those willing to linger….
Lingering with (say) Psalm 145,  I might begin with the words of praise to which the psalm calls me.  I ponder the greatness of the Lord.  I notice the beautiful day outside my window, and thank Him for the wonders I see.  I have been struck, when praying with this psalm, by verse 4:  'Generation after generation praises Your works..'  This has led me into prayer for my children, my grandchildren, and all future generations of my family to come, ever.  God sees them, even now.  I pray that they will praise His works; that they will know, love and serve Him in their time and throughout eternity.

Scriptures for prayer:

'I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.  He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; He set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps, and He put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God. (Psalm 40:2-3)

'Let your belts be fastened around your waists and your lamps be burning ready.  Be like men awaiting their master’s return from a wedding, so that when he arrives and knocks, you will open for him without delay.' (Luke 12:35-36)

For personal reflection:

- Am I willing to linger with God for a few extra minutes of prayer today?

- Am I willing to talk to Him just a little while longer, to praise Him one more time, to listen for the gentle inspirations of His Holy Spirit?

- What happens when I do this?


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Painting: Alfred Stevens, Symphonie, in US public domain due to age

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Consecration of a Monastery


I think the following is an ideal prayer for those of us who want to go through the world as 'walking monasteries,' living for the glory of God. 

Praying through this, line by line, leads me to an examination of conscience, into repentance, and toward a renewal of my decision to live for Christ.

'Dear Lord, 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 set apart, dedicated to God's use as something holy, never to be profaned by worldliness, by selfishness, or by sin. 

'My body is the Spirit's chosen dwelling place, 
a privileged altar. It must then not be looked upon as 
a market place for the transaction of business, 
or a school for study, 
or a playground for amusement. 
It is none of these.  
Indeed, it is not really my property at all, 
but Your very own...
'I must never dare to bring the God dwelling within me 
into contact with things which He abhors. 

'O God, hidden within me, forgotten and neglected on so many days, during so many years, I ask You to forgive my carelessness, my irreverence, my infidelity....

'Joyfully I consecrate to You my body, with all its members and all its senses, 
my hands and feet, 
my eyes and ears and tongue, 
my powers of seeing and hearing and speaking, 
my impulses and instincts and appetites and desires. 
I make them over to You by deed of gift; 
to be absolutely and forever Yours, to be employed always in Your service, never to be used against Your will.

'O God, take this body of mine, 
consecrate it, 
let it never be defiled by sin. 
Let it never become the abode of evil, 
nor be used against the best interests of any of Your children.' 

(from "Listening to the Indwelling Presence" by a Religious, Pellegrini, 1940, pp. 24-26) )

Paintings in US public domain due to age

Monday, February 15, 2016

Acting Logically

'Jesus told him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life;  no one comes to the Father but through Me.'' (John 14:6)

'The monk is precisely the Christian who has recognized in Christ 'the way, the truth, and the life' and who intends to act logically over this discovery, a discovery of such a nature that it should not leave any of those who have made it tepid or indifferent.' (Louis Bouyer of the Oratory, The Meaning of the Monastic Life, P.J. Kenedy and Sons, 1950, p. 68)

- If I recognize in Christ the way, the truth and the life, am I acting logically over this discovery? Are the things I do and say, on a daily basis, consistent with my belief in this truth?

- Have I grown tepid or indifferent? If so, do I have any idea how this happened? And what can I do to get back on track?  

'The Christian life is nothing else but Christ; the monastic life is nothing else but Christ. The requirements for the Christian and for the monk are in substance the same; the difference lies only in the particular kind of stress that is given to them. The Church exists so that souls should lead the life of Christ; the monastery exists for the same purpose. Whether it is union with Him in the world or in the cloister, it is union that is the soul's purpose.' (Dom Hubert Van Zeller, The Yoke of Divine Love, Templegate, 1957, p. 182)

Friday, February 12, 2016

My Everday Oblation

'And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying 'this is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or to the left.'' (Isaiah 30:21)

‘Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find Him.’ (St Josemaria Escriva)
'Our Lord has created persons for all states in life, and in all of them we see people who achieved sanctity by fulfilling their obligations well.' (St. Anthony Mary Claret)

- God is working in my ordinary, everyday life. Yes, right in the midst of the world. Do I believe this? Do I ever see this?

- God is asking me to love and serve Him exactly where I am right now. How shall I respond to His call today?

- Suggestion: Keep a notebook or journal of how I hear and respond to God in the everyday, ordinary circumstances of my life.   

'Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.' (St. Ignatius Loyola )

'Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.' (St. Catherine of Siena)  

Paintings on this post in US public domain due to age.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Offering

'I have waited, waited for the Lord, and He stooped toward me and heard my cry. He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; He set my feet upon a crag; He made firm my steps, and He put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God. Many shall look on in awe, and trust in the Lord'. (Psalm 40:2-4)

'I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship. 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 12:1-2) 

'Jesus, I give You my whole heart and my whole will.  They once rebelled against You, but now I dedicate them completely to you…Receive me, and make me faithful until death.' (St. Alphonsus Liguori) 

'Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess, You have given me. I surrender it all to You, to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.' (St. Ignatius Loyola)

 Painting on this post by James Tissot, in US public domain due to age. Digitally altered and cropped.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I Just Know

'How does one know if the Lord is calling? In varied ways, but as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta responded when asked how someone knows if she is called: 'She knows. She knows.' This is the language of the heart, and often it is difficult to put words to the language of the heart. The good news is, no one discerns a vocation in the Church alone - with the help of a vocation director, you will be able to discern whether the Lord is calling you to one community or another, or to marriage or the single life. All disciples of Christ are called to love without limits...' (from Sisters of Life website)

'She knows. She knows...' 

When I first heard these words spoken by Mother Teresa, I thought my heart would burst into flame. Watching a videotape with my husband, I too felt an inexplicable, unwordable sense of being called.  Not able to understand how that fit in with my life as a wife and mother, still I knew. I just knew.

I have a fuller idea now, thirty years later, of that sense of 'call.' I still can't describe it, really, and obviously I was not being called to Religious life. I was, however, being called to a total gift of self to God, and to living for Him with no ifs, ands or buts, and to be His disciple.

As a layperson with such a call, I am not alone. 'ALL disciples of Christ are called to love without limits.'

Every absolute one of us is called.

If I sit with Jesus and let Him draw me closer, I become more aware of the truth of His call. I may not be able to describe it, really, but I know. I know.

I just know.

For Reflection: 

'It was not you who chose Me, it was I Who chose you to go forth and bear fruit.' (John 15:16)

'Go courageously to God along the way He has traced out for you, steadfastly embracing the means He offers you.' (St. Margaret Mary Alacoque)

- Do I have an awareness of God calling me? What 'next step' can I take to answer His call?

- What path(s) has God traced out for me? Am I following these steadfastly, or do I need to pray for courage to embrace these means more fully?

- Was there ever a time when I felt 'my heart would burst into flame?' Can I identify at all with these words?

'Intimacy with God is not for the saints only, it is for all of us. God dwells in each soul which is in the state of grace and calls each of us to be united to Him in intimate friendship....We are all called therefore to this life of intimacy, to this communing with the Most High.' (from 'Listening to the Indwelling Presence,' compiled by a Religious, Pellegrini)

Painting: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Calling of St Matthew

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lent in Our Cloister

Because Lent is now upon us, I would like to again go through the 'monastery' of the 'cloistered heart' - but this time almost exclusively as an encouragement toward prayer.

I hope to keep this simple. Each post will have a short reading from Scripture, a brief quote from a saint or other Catholic writer, possibly a short 'cloistered heart' comment to go along with these, and a question or focus for reflection.

It is my prayer that the images posted will also be aids to our meditation. I had, in fact, chosen one for this post and decided that, no - that needs to be saved for a bit later (I personally found it quite inspiring).

We will, God willing, begin this tomorrow. In the meantime, I write this as another one of those 'posts I can link back to' if necessary.

I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will touch our hearts and draw us closer to HIS heart. May we each have a holy, fruitful Lent.

Painting: Jacopo Pontormo, St Antony the Great

Why Don't You Come Too?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A New Blog in Town

What a wonderful surprise I had yesterday. I discovered that the Visitation Nuns in Tyringham, Massachusetts have a (drum roll please.....) new BLOG! 

'Honey For the Soul' can be found at

The Sisters' most recent post tells us how they celebrate Shrovetide, when they 'get the giggles out' before Lent.

Now, that is my kind of celebrating!

Let's go see what they're up to, shall we?  Click here to visit.

Photo: Tyringham Visitation by N Shuman,1990s

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Revisiting The Cloistered Heart

The following was one of my earliest attempts to outline (at the request of a helpful priest) the idea and analogies of The Cloistered Heart. Now, twenty years later, this continues to call me back to basics. It challenges me and helps me reconnect with my own desires to live 'a little above and more than earth.'

My call is to be in the world but not of the world.  This is not a new or different idea; rather, it is an emphasizing, a kind of underlining, of every Christian's call. I find it helpful to recognize that within me is a 'place' set apart for and consecrated to God.  This place of consecration is sacred and inviolate, for the God of all dwells therein.

The word 'cloister' speaks of total consecration. Those who enter a traditional physical cloister make a tangible break from the world. Compromise does not fit well in a cloister, nor does lukewarmness, nor does complacency. The cloistered life is absolute.  A nun living in a cloister has made a decision to live for God. She has made a break.

A Christian living in the world is also called to make a decision to live for God, but the break for us is not so clean. The world is persistent in its tugs on the heart trying to live for God.  Therefore, we need support in our struggles to surrender our lives to God and to resist the world's allurements. This is where the imagery of the cloistered heart can be of help.

'It is best not to consider whether or not one is called to the cloister; that is not the point.  If the cloister is in a man's heart, it is immaterial whether the building is actually there.  The cloister in a man's heart means only this:  God and the soul.' (from Warriors of God by W. Nigg, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 1959, p. 13)

A cloistered heart may be married or single, nurse or engineer or homemaker, yet the heart can be cloistered. My cloister is not made of bricks and stones, but of God's holy will in which I have chosen to live. The will of God forms for me a 'cloister grille,' through which I may view and respond to all people, all circumstances, all things that make up the world in which I live.  My commitment to God does not conflict with family life, but rather enhances and empowers it.

Many years ago, another had this same kind of vision.  St. Jane de Chantal, when she was yet a laywoman (widowed with four children), imaged her spiritual world with monastic imagery, and took the Virgin Mary as the Abbess of the cloister of her own heart.

I ask for her intercession and for that of St. Francis de Sales, who encouraged Jane in her monastic imagery.  May they pray for all of us who wish to live in the world as 'cloistered hearts.'

'The heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place ‘to which I withdraw.’  The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully.  The heart is the place of decision..' (Catechism of the Catholic Church,  2563) 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Squeezing Through the Crack

Wanting to live 'a little above and more than earth,' I've looked back over letters from someone who spent several cloistered years discerning a possible Religious vocation. As it turned out, that was not what God had for her; instead, He called her out of the convent and (later) into married life. After reading an early article on The Cloistered Heart, Rose had the following thoughts to share:  

'I had this idea that prayer, holiness, and the spiritual life were for the religious vocation and hidden behind high, thick brick walls.  I longed to find a crack in that wall so I could have just a tiny taste of the spiritual life I once knew.  Then the Holy Spirit brought the Cloistered Heart to me.  The Cloistered Heart allowed me to squeeze through a tiny crack in that big brick wall.  I long for the fullness of all of God's promises for those who love Him to the heights.  And if that sounds presumptive, then so be it, because I know that it is meant for us all.  Not just the Religious or the saints, but for all.....' (from a letter by Rose)

'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)

'I remember reading 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.' (Rose)

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Little Above and More Than Earth

'In those soft tones which are so usual to them, the nuns bade us goodbye. As we came away, the Mother Superior said quietly, with a subdued and gently resigned fear lest we might not look upon the convent as it shone in her eyes and lived in her spirit: 'it is all very old fashioned and plain, but we love it. It is our home on earth and' (hesitating again) ' we think it is a little above and more than earth.' (A Story of Courage; text slightly edited)

Reading these words, I see my own call.

I am to live on earth, obviously, and I'm to interact with others, and I'm to be part of the world around me. All the while, however, I am called by God to rise above the persistent pull of sin. I'm to fix my eyes on Jesus, and to consistently choose His way above all that is contrary to His will.    

Perhaps this is why the idea of a cloistered heart so draws me. I cannot live behind the walls of a monastery, for that is not my vocation. But living fully for God in the midst of the world? That IS my vocation. And after spending a little time behind cloister walls, where God is the absolute Center of every single thing and where everyone lives fully and openly for Him, we just might find it tough to return to the vanity and godlessness and sin of the world outside.
'You put it so perfectly,' I wrote to a friend some years ago, 'when you wrote of returning from your retreat at the monastery feeling disoriented and like someone who had to be convalescing after a long illness. We have a taste of consecrated life and we are never the same - never the same. The 'Motherhouse' of monasticism calls to us while we are out in the world 'on mission.'  It is in some way, purely and simply, home. We are like those in a foreign land, having become acclimated enough to speak the language and to love the people. But sometimes, in the quiet of our hearts, we begin to long for others who can speak our native tongue. We are like refugees who love to meet those of their homeland, to share our cultural stories and sing the anthems of home.' 

'Those experiences were so intense and holy to me,' writes a woman who spent a brief period of time in monastic life, 'that I have never been comfortable in the world since.  It seems to me to be similar to what soldiers experience after being deployed into life-and-death combat in a foreign land - something so alien to our normal existence that it can never be fully explained in words to people who have not had that experience, nor can its imprint ever be erased from the soul.'

My friends have experienced life in a place that is a little above and more than earth. As for me, when I left the monastery after my first cloistered retreat, I wished I could bring the bricks and stones with me. Which is not what I truly wanted to hold onto, of course. I wanted to bring back a world centered on and revolving around Christ. I wanted to bring home a steady routine of prayer. I wanted to bring back others who could share stories of God's goodness, and who would sing with me the anthems of Home.

In my everyday life, I continue the struggle to live fully for God, and I know you do as well. In days to come, we'll be discussing this a bit further. As we do so, I pray that God will help each of us live fully for Him, whatever our states of life.

I pray He will teach us to live a little above and more than earth.

'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 there is above! It is destined for us!' Sigh longingly after its possession. Sometimes say....  'Nothing on this earth pleases me; I no longer care for anything but my God. Yes, I hope, yes, I wish to possess Him, and I hope this is the mercy of God, through the merits of my Saviour's Passion and the dolors of my good Mother Mary.'' (St. Paul of the Cross).

Text not in quotes

For now, we will say so long to the book A Story of Courage, although more quotes will be inserted as they are found to fit various topics.To go back to the beginning of this little 'series' and from there find the posts in chronological order, click this line.