Yet in the midst of troubling news, moral confusion, and input from a world going mad, we really do have a Rock to live in and on and under. Jesus is our Rock, our Refuge. He is our Hiding Place, our fortress, our one true cloister.
I see the truth of this when I consider so many saints gone before us... martyrs who much preferred death to the possibility of turning away from Christ. What grace they received - exactly when they needed it. This gives me hope.
In Acts 16, for instance, we read of Paul and Silas thrown into jail after having been given many lashes. Their feet were chained to a stake. I can imagine myself there, whining and grumbling and feeling sorry for myself. But were Paul and Silas wailing, angry, groaning? No. They were praying and singing hymns to God.
And consider St. Ignatius of Antioch, as he was on his way to be fed to lions. "Leave me to the beasts," he wrote, "that through them I may be accounted worthy of God. I am the wheat of God, and by the teeth of the beasts I shall be ground, so that I may be found the pure bread of God. Greatly provoke the wild beasts so that they may be my grave and leave nothing of my body, so that I won't be a burden on anyone. Then I will truly be a disciple of Jesus Christ."
What grace! The same grace that was given to St. Stephen as he was being stoned. The same grace (we can believe it) that is offered to people undergoing persecution for Christ today.
I see Stephen as a perfect patron for those of us who strive to view life "through the grille." If anyone ever saw and responded to circumstances in such a way, it was he. Even as his persecutors were preparing to kill him, he boldly exclaimed "'Look!... I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God's right hand."
I am sure this acute view of reality buffered the saint's agony as stones were hurled at him. "As he was being stoned, he could be heard praying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' He fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'" (Acts 7:54, 59, 60)
"The cloistered heart." I wrote some years ago, "is the heart of David dancing before the ark; of Mesach, Shadrach and Abednego in the fiery furnace; of Paul in prison, Daniel in the lions’ den, John on Patmos, Peter in chains. The world is not safe from evil – even the body isn’t safe from harm – but within the cloistered heart there is refuge. The Lord is with me, He is within my cloister. My heart, as long as He is in it, is safe."
I must remember this. In the madness all around, I must remember.
Within the cloistered heart there is refuge. The Lord Himself is with me.
My heart, as long as He is in it, is safe.