Thursday, June 30, 2016

As a Fiery Light

'As a fiery light shone in the night's darkness upon those wandering in the desert, so those who dwell in the spiritual monasteries are often lightened by the rays of a supernal light, which dispels the darkness of fleshly passions and bathes them in the brilliance of inward contemplation.'

St. Peter Damian

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Revisiting a Cry of Charity

Most people don't realize who they're quoting when they speak of catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.  I was well into adulthood when I learned that this bit of wisdom had come from one of my favorite saints. 

"You can catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than with ten barrels of vinegar." (St. Francis de Sales)

I often think of this in connection with another quote from this Doctor of the Church.

"It is an act of of charity to cry out against the wolf when he is among the sheep"  (St. Francis de Sales) 

These two thoughts may not appear to have much to do with one another.  But in my mind, they work together.  In fact, I often strive to "navigate between them," as one might drive between two lines painted on a highway to keep vehicles moving safely.

As one of Our Lord's sheep, I am seeing wolves among us.  I'm not thinking of people, but of ideas and ungodly "values" that creep in, usually in sheeps' clothing.

These generally enter in the name of freedom, tolerance, rights, pleasure, peace, fairness, love, correctness, justice for all.  Not wanting to be unkind, we can let them prowl freely among our families and nations and parishes without our uttering so much as a whisper of protest.  We don't want to rock boats, ruffle feathers, stir waters, or cause anyone to be uncomfortable.  We'd like to be charitable.

It takes a lot to cry out against wolves.  But if we know the truth and do not speak up for it, are we acting in genuine charity toward the sheep?

Francis de Sales would say no.

However, there are a couple of ways of speaking.  We can lash out in anger, in sharp words that can sting and personally wound our "opponents"... in other words, we can dish out the vinegar.  Or we can speak in honeyed tones.  Not fake ones, but in words and actions spoken from a heart of love.

How do we have such a heart when we feel anything, perhaps, but loving?  We pray.  We seek God.  We fast and sacrifice.  We ask for wisdom.  We dive into Scripture as if our very lives depended on it; because, really, they do.

We trust that God will show us when and how to act, when and how to speak, when and how to offer truth.  We do well to remember that ears tend to turn off at the sound of vinegar.  The truth we're trying to communicate can pass by totally unheard if we allow frustration and anger to "vinegar-ize" what we say.

We are seeing wolves among us. We find them in the media, in politics, in laws and schools and so many "areas of et cetera" that this page isn't long enough to list them.  They rob children of innocence, families of stability, societies of integrity, preborn babies of life, and individuals of eternity spent with God.  The cost of our silence could be staggering. 

But we dare not speak without honey.

We dare not speak without love.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Consider What God Does

"During the course of the day, recall as often as possible that you are in God's presence. Consider what God does and what you are doing. You will see His eyes turned toward you and constantly fixed on you with incomparable love. Then you will say to Him, 'O God, why do I not look always at You, just as You always look at me? Why do you think so often of me, O Lord, and why do I think so seldom of You?'"

St. Francis de Sales

Painting: George Elgar Hicks, in US public domain due to age

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Banish, Therefore, the Distractions

'He who enters into the secret place of his own soul passes beyond himself, and does in truth ascend to God. Banish, therefore, from thy heart the distractions of earth; and turn thine eyes to spiritual joys, that thou mayest learn at last to repose in the light of the contemplation of God.' St. Albert the Great

Kitaev Hermitage, click for attribution

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Revisiting the Liturgy of the Hours

I used to have little appreciation for the Liturgy of the Hours. I considered it ‘too structured,’ ‘too formal,’ and a mere recitation of words other people had written. It could be spoken while the speaker’s mind wandered anywhere and everywhere (I decided)… so wouldn’t such a practice just lead to dry, lifeless prayer?

I could not have been more wrong. 

The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the ‘Divine Office,’ is an official group of prayers used by priests and Religious. It is a primary part of the daily schedules of monks and nuns. 

The Divine Office is the same for people throughout the Church, throughout the world. On the very same day, Father O’Neill in Dublin and a group of monks in Sydney and a monastery of nuns in Toledo are praying.
And I can pray with them, if I wish.

As I wrote here in the past, the Liturgy of the Hours helps my prayer stay on track. In it, scripture is right before me; thus I have 'grillwork' for my day.  I am praying with the whole Church, right along with Father O'Neill and the monks in Sydney and the Toledo nuns. And, if I'm tempted to bypass prayer, I get help to carry me past my (laziness, in my case).

Do I, personally, pray the entirety of the Liturgy of the Hours?  No.  But My goal is to work toward that. I'm making a commitment to at least pray part of it every day.  I hope to pray more and more of it, to 'baby step' my way into staying solidly on its tracks throughout the day.

In my haphazard life, I definitely need some of that structure I once dreaded.  Otherwise, I wind up wasting entire days.
I find that those 'words others have written' often turn out to be cries and groanings from my very own heart.

Does my mind wander while I pray in this way?  My mind wanders no matter how I pray.  The Divine Office helps call the drifting mind back.

Does the Liturgy of the Hours lead me to the dry, lifeless prayer I feared?  No.  Sometimes I feel dry and lifeless, yes, but again:  that would happen no matter how I pray.  The printed words help me stay focused.

In some key ways, the Liturgy of the hours is a lens that helps me zoom right in on the presence and reality of God.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Any Given Moment

It has helped me (recently) to realize that one moment is all I have. This moment, right now... that's it.

I can no longer use yesterday's moments for God. I can repent of them, or perhaps be glad I used them as I did, or just forget about them - but I cannot change a single one.

And tomorrow's moments? I can pray now for them, offering them to God and asking Him to grace me in advance. But still: the actual arrival of each will place a choice before me.

The moment of right now is the one I truly have. The one in which I can now choose. Shall I give this moment to God .. or not?

I've been thinking about this for the last few days, making an effort to put this moment, and then this next one, to good use.

As I was writing this post, just as I finished that last sentence, the electricity in my house went out.  Finally taking time to string a few thoughts together (which has been particularly tough for me on this topic, for some unknown reason), I felt like my words were suddenly pulled out from under me. No blog screen, no Internet. Stolen moments, or so it seemed. But of course the moments were not stolen at all. Each was given to me, and I could choose whether or not to give it over to God.

I could use any given moment of this tiny trial for grumbling, panicking, fretting. Or I could grab any one and praise God in it, surrender to His will, choose to trust Him.  God is worthy of praise at any given moment, no matter what is happening to me. Even when my air conditioning isn't working and storms roll outside and the food in my freezer is thawing, God is good and is worthy of praise. I can choose to pray. I can smile instead of grumble, trust instead of fret, repent instead of delay and excuse.

Whether I remembered (or chose) to do so as recently as a minute ago, I can give this very moment of my life to God.

"Every moment of your life is like God saying 'look, I know you messed up in the last moment, but here's a new one'... you have a fresh start in this new moment. Every day, every moment of your life is brand new." (Mother Angelica)

Monday, June 20, 2016

If I Just Had a Different Enclosure...

'Some people imagine that if they were
in another place,
or married to a different spouse,
or had a different job,
or had more money,
they could do God's work so much better.

The truth is that it makes no difference where they are;
it all depends on whether what they are doing is God's will and done for love of Him.'

Bishop Fulton J Sheen

Painting: Joseph Kleitsch, 1927

Friday, June 17, 2016

Till in the Midst of Crowds

"Dear loving God, remind me to turn inward to You hundreds of times today,
and speak lovingly to You.
Let Your Holy Spirit take complete possession of me until,
in the midst of crowds or in the stress of work...
I live alone with You, my loving God,
my inseparable Guide, my Guest divine.
Live Your own life within me,
and think, speak and act through me,
so that St. Paul's words may be true of me:
'I live now, not I, but Christ liveth in me.' (Galatians 2:20) "

(from Listening to the Indwelling Presence,  compiled by a Religious, Pellegrini, 1940, pp. 182-183)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

No Earthly Light Can Show Us God

"All the lights of the world, radiant in their brilliance and wealth and flashing splendour, cannot compare with the pure, steady gleam of Faith. No earthly light can show us God. No blaze from the fires of this world can light up the mysteries of life, or reveal Eternal Truths. No!  It is the fixed, constant and unchanging ray of faith that turns darkness into day, and exchanges doubt for certainty. Faith gives not only light, but understanding and acute vision also. All that we can see, we know was made from invisible things. Faith pierces the visible and gives a glimpse of the invisible."

(The Living Pyx of Jesus, Pelligrini, 1941, p. 120)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

E'er a Vision

"Cloister thy mind, thy senses and thy heart, and keep within a silent sanctuary, where thou with Me may live a life apart, a life of love in sweetest intimacy. 

"Speak with Me often through the busy day, thy joys and sorrows, all, to Me confide. And hearken, child; My every wish obey, 'til thus thou shalt with Me in Love abide.  

"Why sigh then for the vision that is past,
or that from Thabor's mount thou must depart?
For thou has e'er a vision that will last -

"Come!  Seek Me in the chapel of thy heart!"
(from Fervorinos from the Lips of the Master, compiled by a Religious, Pelligrini, Australia, 1940, p. 258)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ever in the Chapel of Their Hearts

They who love Christ "endeavour to live always in union with Him Who is ever in the Chapel of their hearts. For the love of Jesus, they turn their thoughts away from the things of this world that they might dwell in Him alone. They practise complete renunciation for His sake in order to do His will. They labour to correct their defects and to reform their character that it may resemble His and be pleasing unto Him....Many of these friends of God never did very wonderful things during their years on earth, but they loved much and did ordinary things with extraordinary love...

"St. Rita was a cook; St Benedict Joseph Labre, a beggar; St, John Berchmans, a Jesuit Novice; St. Therese of Lisieux, a little hidden Carmelite, and an endless list of others who did no more than the ordinary actions that go to make up the warp and woof of our daily lives; yet they scaled the heights of sanctity by the ladder of loving prayer-aspirations. This, then, is the life of prayer - a life which IS prayer, because it is a life of increasing advertence, adhesion and surrender to God."

(from "Listening to the Indwelling Presence," compiled by a Religious, Pellegrini, Australia, 1940, pp. 44-45)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Simple Way

"I shall put life and energy into my work by infusing therein a true supernatural spirit. I shall never lose sight of the fact that labour is a penance and that, accepted and offered to God as such, it becomes a wonderful means of atonement for my sins. Prayer will go hand-in-hand with my work, whatever its nature may be. Before each separate duty, I shall beg God's blessing. From time to time during its progress, I shall lift my heart to God... This will not impede my work, rather it will add to its efficiency, for the more I bring God into my work, the better will it be accomplished... Yes, it is true, that if we offer all the common, ordinary things of life in love, to give pleasure to Jesus, we shall attain to sainthood. For God does not look so much at the greatness of our acts as at the love with which we do them. It is a simple way." (The Living Pyx of Jesus, Pelligrini, 1941, pp. 263-266)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Praying in My Portable Choir Stall

'O you who fear the Lord, praise Him in the places where you are now.  Change of place does not affect any drawing nearer to God, but wherever you may be, God will come to you.' (Gregory of Nyssa)."

Re-reading the above quote, I ask myself:  "where can God come to me?"

The answer:  wherever I may be.

If I praise Him in the place where I am now, says St. Gregory, God WILL come to me.  I can draw nearer to Him.  Which means that right here, as I sit plunking away at a keyboard, I can draw near to God.  Looking out my window, gazing at a sky of purest blue, I can offer prayer.  I can praise God as much and as "thoroughly" as if I were sitting in a choir stall. 

And when I get up from my chair, I can continue offering my actions and my prayer.  Mine is a "choir stall" that can go with me to kitchen, car, dentist's office, mall.

"Opportunities are offered hourly for us to perform with great love seemingly unimportant works.  Gentleness and patience toward others, overcoming our own moods and inclinations, acknowledging within ourselves our own imperfections, and persevering effort to keep ourselves tranquil and at peace:  this faithfulness is greater than we can imagine." (from In the Midst of the World by Sister Joanne Marie Wenzel VHM, Brooklyn Visitation Monastery, 1985, p. 9)

I think I hear, from another part of my house, opportunity knocking.  Like a monastery bell, it calls out to me.  There are desks to be straightened, letters to sort, there's a kitchen in need of help.  Change of place does not affect my drawing nearer to God.

So I shall pick up my choir stall and go scrub a sink.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Praying Where Lions Wait

I have never faced the challenge of praying where lions wait. I've never been like Daniel, prohibited from praying, and I haven't endured threats of hungry animals waiting to feast on me if I did.

"All the supervisors of the kingdom... are agreed that the following prohibition ought to be put in force by royal decree: no one is to address any petition to god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king; otherwise he shall be cast into a den of lions.... 

"Even after Daniel heard that this law had been signed, he continued his custom of going home to kneel in prayer and give thanks to his God in the upper chamber three times a day... So these men rushed in and found Daniel praying and pleading before his God...  

"The king ordered Daniel to be brought and cast into the lions' den. To Daniel he said 'May your God, whom you serve so constantly, save you...' the king rose early the next morning and hastened to the lions' den... Daniel answered the king: 'O king, live forever! My God has sent His angel and closed the lions' mouths.'" (Daniel 6)

Today I read the above and ask myself...

Am I ever hesitant to be "caught praying?" Or even to let people know I pray? Perhaps I'm shy about it with my family, neighbors, co-workers. If so, why?

Am I willing to be known as one who serves God?

If I think about my life today, what do I fear?  Maybe I imagine all sorts of "lions" slinking around. Can I make a decision (as tough as it may be to do so) to trust my Lord to save me, and "close the lions' mouths?"

"I decree" wrote the king to all the nations after Daniel was spared, "that throughout my royal domain the God of Daniel is to be reverenced and feared. 'For He is the living God, enduring forever; His kingdom shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall be without end. He is a Deliverer and Savior, working signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, and He delivered Daniel from the lions' power.'"  

He is a Deliverer and Savior, still working signs and wonders. And He can deliver us from whatever we may face. 

Painting: Briton Reviere, Daniel's Answer to the King

Monday, June 6, 2016

In Places of Praise

"They are happy who dwell in Your house! Continually they praise You." (Psalm 84:5)

Imagine living where we could praise God all day long. Imagine being where just a few footsteps would bring us into His Presence, and we could come before Him in adoration. 

'O you who fear the Lord, praise Him in the places where you are now.  Change of place does not affect any drawing nearer to God, but wherever you may be, God will come to you.' (Gregory of Nyssa)." 

Praise Him in the place where I am now? Wherever I may be, He will come to me? Now, that is a beautifully 'cloistered heart' idea, and a striking promise, and I know it is the truth. 

I do, however, need lots of reminding. So with this in mind, I hope to spend the next few days here visiting some of the places where God can meet with me. Would you like to come along?

The truth is: we live precisely where we can praise God all day long. Just a word of prayer can bring us into His Presence. 

We can come to Him in adoration, wherever we may be. 

Photo © C Wells

Saturday, June 4, 2016

As Through Pure Crystal

'To give worthy praise to the Lord's mercy, we unite ourselves with Your Immaculate Mother, for then our hymn will be more pleasing to You, because she is chosen from among men and angels. Through her, as through a pure crystal, Your mercy was passed on to us. Through her, man became pleasing to God; through her, streams of grace flowed upon us.'

St. Faustina

Thursday, June 2, 2016

While We Do Our Work

'We must try to converse with God in little ways while we do our work... we should purely and simply reveal our hearts as the words come to us.'

Brother Lawrence

Painting of monk: Eduard von Gr├╝tzner,1908 
Painting of chef: Tanoux

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Revisiting Hidden Corners

"Don't be one of those who give God everything but one little corner of their heart, on which they put up a notice board with the inscription: 'trespassers not allowed." (Father William Doyle)

This quote is making me wonder.

I try to give God every part of my heart, truly I do.  Daily I do.

But are there any little corners I might have closed off to Him? "You can have this and this, Lord... but... maybe not that." I don't say it, of course. Not in words.

Yet I ask myself. Am I determined to manage some area(s) of my life the way I want? Am I a bit fearful to turn any particular something over to God, lest He arrange things in a way I might not prefer?

Am I feeling pretty good about having given, maybe, ninety percent of myself to Him - perhaps even patting myself on the back for being so generous, while I cling fiercely to the rest?

If so (and I reluctantly admit that in my case, this IS so), I think perhaps Our Lord is patting my back too, accepting my gift with love. But He does not stop there. I cannot imagine Him "patting my back" without then slipping His arm around me, asking me to invite Him into that corner, encouraging me to let Him take care of anything I've kept away from His love.

"Trust Me," I can almost hear Him saying, and I know this is not an imaginary exercise at all.

His plea for my trust is very real.

With His grace, day by day and step by step, I can let Him come inside the wall. 

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)