Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Cleaned By Love

Standing at the edge of Lent, I find myself reflecting upon the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And I think of this from Charles de Foucauld: 

“When you want to write on a blackboard, you must first wipe off what is written there.’

Several things occur to me as I read this.  First of all:  chalk is not permanent.  Nor are my sins.  Once the “board” has been erased, the original mistakes can no longer be read. 

Second:  a blackboard cannot be erased unless something is done.  Someone has to actually take action and clean the board.

Third:  a chalkboard eraser is not a steel wool pad.  It is soft.  It’s made to clean the board, not harm it.  If a blackboard could feel, I doubt it would cry “ouch.”

“God,” wrote St. Gregory the Great, “scourges our faults with strokes of love, to cleanse us from our iniquities.” 

Strokes of love.  Not lashes and paddles, but strokes of love.

Jesus wants to erase every one of my sins.  He knows I cannot do it on my own.  He has given the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a (gentle, loving, healing) Eraser.  I pray, as this Lenten season begins, for the grace to “confess my sins, do penance, and amend my life."  

May Our Lord write what HE wants on my life. May He make it totally His own. 

This is a slightly edited repost. It is linked to Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for 'It's Worth Revisiting Wednesday.'

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cloistered at the Carnival

I once had a dream about a carnival.  Specifically, I dreamed I was living in a little house on carnival grounds. It was night, but the light streaming in through my windows was bright and garish. It flashed bursts of purple and white and blue and yellow, ceaselessly, across walls and floors and faces.

There were other people in the house, sitting quietly in my little living room. The faces around were serene and still. I knew we were praying.

It was a "staying" sort of dream, the kind you carry with you throughout the day and perhaps long after. I felt it captured much of the essence of my life as a cloistered heart.

Like the house in my dream, my life is encircled by "the carnival." I don't have to look far to see the truth of this, although I often forget it. I live surrounded by so many things that don't really matter in the long run... things that carry the atmosphere of carnival.... the chase after fun, self-indulgence, riches, entertainment, pleasure, the pursuit of what pleases me-me-me. Yes, that last sentence contains redundancies; and yes, the carnival does as well. Like a wheel spinning round and round going nowhere, the carnival spins back to self and I and me and mine and what I can get out of life.

It's tough not to get caught up in the carnival.  After all, there is much in it that can be legitimately enjoyed. But oh, how easy it is to let the clamor and excitement, the music and neon, the magic and illusion take my focus off what really matters!  It is a constant struggle.

How to live in the carnival while not being part of it?  Perhaps, for me, a clue lies within the dream.   I am to remain in that little house of prayer, in the cloister of God's will, wherever I may go.  I am to keep the light of prayer lit within it, for that will illuminate the shadows and reveal the Truth of God.

Like a turtle in its shell, I can carry the cloister with me. I can live in a house of peace, in the midst of the carnival's neon glare.   

"The world with its seductions is passing away, but the man who does God's will endures forever."  (1 John 2:17)

This is a repost from our archives.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Carry Him

'Carry Christ everywhere in your hearts. Make your souls monstrances,  
and go into places where Our Lord has never been adored in the Host, 
where the monstrance has never been lifted up.'

Caryll Houselander, 'The Passion of the Infant Christ'

Thursday, February 23, 2017

One Thing

Painting: Neroccio di Bartolomeo de' Landi, The Virgin and Child with Sts. Benedict and Catherine of Siena, 1490

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Revisiting That Narrow Path

Having never entered religious life, I haven't experienced a potential nun's journey toward a cloistered world.

But oh, I have daydreamed it.  Not in the sense of dreaming with desire, and not exactly daydreaming with dread, but with a sense of wondering.  How would it feel, I've asked myself, to make a serious, determined decision to leave the world and enter a life where I live totally for Christ.  Not just partly, not mostly, but totally.  Fully embracing His will with no compromise, no watering down what He asks of me; "yes" with no ifs, no ands, no buts.  Entering the world of His will, and turning my back on all that tries to lure me away from Him.

"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)

Am I serious about genuine growth?  I ask it of myself.  Immediately, I know my answer.  The desire to move beyond ho-hum Christianity is what inspires my life as a cloistered heart.

The desire to "move beyond" drives me onward, yet a large part of me wants to dig in my heels and stay right where I am.  I'm not so bad, I tell myself.  I pray and receive the Sacraments and try to be nice.

Thankfully, there is more to a Godly life than that.

"One cannot give Christ a limited place in one's life," writes Louis Bouyer of the Oratory (The Meaning of the Monastic Life, PJ Kenedy and Sons, NY, 1950,  p. x).  And that is the crux of it, for me.  I am not content to be a "just in case" Christian.  I don't want to simply follow the rules and try to avoid mortal sin just in case God is real (by His grace, I'm convinced that He is).  I'm not satisfied to throw some prayers in His direction now and then and call that a life of faith.

The truth is:  I'm engaged in much more than an imaginary exercise.

I AM serious about genuine growth.  I AM on a real, vital, narrow path to union with God. "The main business of the beginner, therefore, is to make a determined turnabout from preoccupation with this worldly world to a life centered in the Trinity."  (Dubay, p. 82)

The world beckons. I live in it, and I can be joyful as I do so, for this is where God calls me to serve Him.  But preoccupation with the world?  It is from this that I must turn.

I don't turn, however, for the mere sake of turning.  I do not leave the "worldly world" and march forward in pursuit of nothing.  I go along that narrow path - "to a life centered in the Trinity."

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit wait for me.

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: Caspar David Friedrich (detail, digitally altered)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bless Us, O Lord, and These Thy Gifts

'You say grace before meals. All right. 
But I say grace before the concert and the opera, 
and grace before the play and pantomime, 
and grace before I open a book, and grace 
before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, 
boxing, walking, playing, dancing; 
and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
GK Chesterton

Painting at top: Josef Wagner-Höhenberg Lesender, Mönch
Painting at bottom: Caillebotte, Jeune homme au piano

Saturday, February 18, 2017

While Crowds Pass

'Jesus lives in the solitude of the Tabernacle. 
Crowds pass, eager or despairing, in the conflict of human existence, 
in the persistent or reckless pursuits of pleasure. 
All are occupied with their material concerns, with the affairs of home. 
Few give thought to the Divine Lover who dwells amongst them.
Those alone know His divine charm who, like Mary and Joseph,
interweave human activity with the divine activity of self-surrender.
For them, the Tabernacle is the actual meeting place of lovers of Jesus with Himself.
There, they find abundance of spiritual energy and fullness of life.'

from 'Listening to the Indwelling Presence' by a Religious, Pelligrini, 1940, pp. 399-400

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Revisiting The Nights of Many Bells

In some monasteries, the new day begins in the middle of the night. "Not long after midnight," writes Mother Mary Francis PCC, "Sister Sacristan...sets her jaw for what is at once a beautiful and a grim task:  to rouse all the other sleeping nuns.  It is a beautiful task because the sacristan's bell is summoning the community to a midnight tryst with God.  It is a grim business because Poor Clares unfortunately carry their souls about in the same clay casing found on the rest of humanity.  Consequently, though the soul is ready and waiting to go to the choir... the flesh finds the idea not at all stimulating.... Blackness clings to the great, tall windows in the choir, and the huge grille over the altar reaches long fingers of shadow down toward the chanting nuns.... I always feel.. that we are walking down all the avenues of the universe, lighting God's lamps on every corner. (A Right to Be Merry, pp. 115-118)

Out here in the world, I can't identify with bells that rattle me from sleep in the middle of the ni...

O but wait. O yes. Yes, I can. The nights of many bells were several decades ago for me now, but some of you are reading these very words between two such nights.  We know what it's like.  We're deep into a sound sleep, having finally fallen exhausted into bed, when the baby cries.  Is it time for her to eat again?... oh, it can't be!  We drag to our feet, get the baby, feed her, and now she needs a diaper change.  Three hours later, this sweet voiced little "bell" rings again.  Several months after this, Baby Girl is finally sleeping six hours straight, but her brother has begun having nightmares.  And then there are those times when a virus sweeps through the family....

Parents, no matter how much we love our little ones, carry our souls about in the same clay casing found on the rest of humanity.  Our hearts want to rush to the baby, want to comfort a scared five year old.  But our flesh does not find crawling from a warm bed stimulating.

On we walk, however.  Out of bed we climb.  We sacrifice comfort to the summons of the night bells.  We are the ones God has put in charge of lighting lamps of love with our tenderness.  If God has placed little Michael in my life and my home and my heart, then little Michael's cry serves as a bell.  Even at midnight.

May we be given grace to hear the goodness in the bells.

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: Christian Krohg, Mother and Child

Sunday, February 12, 2017

When I Grow Weary With Trifles

'I know that as frequently as possible 
I should recall 
the Indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
I cannot think of Him too often.

From my awakening in the morning 
until I fall asleep at night, 
here He is within me always,
closer than breathing, 
at the very centre of my soul.

Here He is while I am doing my daily work,
and struggling under my burdens;
He is here when I grow weary
with the drudgery, 
with the monotony,
with the emptiness of the trifles 
which fill day after day of my life...

He is here when I am disappointed and cross,
impatient and obstinate,
willful and unreasonable and hard to please...

He is here when I show myself 
eager for notice, 
hungry for praise, 
when I excuse my meanness
by alleging a noble motive.
When I exaggerate, or boast, 
at all such times
He, the Holy Ghost, is here,
just as truly 
as if Christ Himself were visibly present,
and I could touch His garment,
grasp His hand,
embrace Him lovingly.

It is only those who are willfully blind 
Who cannot see Him...'

from 'Listening to the Indwelling Presence' by a Religious, Pelligrini, 1940, pp. 53-55

Paintings by Petrus Van Schendel

Friday, February 10, 2017

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Exact Right Address

Arriving for my first-ever retreat inside an actual monastery, I could not find the building. Nor could the friend who'd come with me, and who was doing the driving. We were at the right address, looking at the spot where the monastery should be, yet for the life of us we could not spot it. All of the buildings in the neighborhood looked, to us, the same. Most were rowhouses, standing shoulder to shoulder along the narrow city street.

There was no sign reading 'monastery' or 'convent.' Brick sidewalks stretched almost to the doorways. There were no front yards. The only monasteries I'd been to before this were miles away from towns, separated from the 'outer world' by fields or forests. Could we have been given the wrong address? I wondered.

Eventually we found an entrance to our destination and yes, here was the monastery - just a few feet from the street. It sat surrounded by cars, pedestrians, and lots and lots of noise. Its outside blended in perfectly with every other building.

'Their thoughts are fixed on God, not on the world; still less on the casual street that runs by their door.' wrote the Lathrops of this exact spot. 'A narrow strip of grass, railed in by a light iron fence, separates their dwelling from the sidewalk, and gives them an added safeguard in their retirement. All this is in accord with the aims of a community like that of the Visitation. Their object is … to prevent the intrusion of careless, worldly, noisy people, who may be inclined to invade the seclusion and sanctity of a life wholly ordered and consecrated to spiritual purposes. (A Story of Courage, p. 7)

'The countenance, then, if one may so describe it, of this building is calm, neutral, neither repelling nor inviting... it is in no way demonstrative. From a distance you cannot even distinguish it from other buildings. It does not dominate them. It does not tower up, or threaten, or warn you away...  It simply stands there, and waits..' 
As one striving to live 'cloistered in heart,' I look upon my life, even my body, as a 'monastery.' I can be a place where God is loved, served, lived for in the midst of the world. I do not stand out from people around me. I look like members of my family, dress like other women my age, talk like everyone else. No one passing me on the sidewalk would cry out 'why, look at that - there goes a walking monastery!' My prayers and babysteps toward holiness happen, in large part, right in the midst of everyday life.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with others, in the middle of the world all around me, I'm situated precisely where I need to be.

I am at the exact right address for a cloistered heart.

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.'

Photo at top: Georgetown Visitation DC, 2002, N Shuman 
Photo at bottom via Pixabay

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Only in This Encounter

'Christianity is not a new philosophy or a new morality. 
We are Christian only if we encounter Christ.... 
only in this personal relationship with Christ, 
only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians... 
Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us so that, in our world, 
He will grant us the encounter with His presence, and thus give a lively faith, 
an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world.'

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Painting: Karoly Ferenczy, Sermon on the Mountain, 1896

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Grille Again (Again)

With all that's going on in the world these days, I would personally like to bury my face so firmly in the cloistered heart 'grille' that I'd wind up with criss-cross marks imprinted on my forehead.

Actually, I would prefer to hide deep inside cloister walls. But I cannot do that. I am called to face the world in its woundedness, seeing my little part of it and letting that little part (family, friends, acquaintances) see me.

I never (ever) want to face the world's confusion, seductions, dissension, anger, fear and distortions unless I do so through the grille.

What is "The Grille?" 
This is how we've previously described it:  
Sometimes I look at the world and feel unsettled.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so grateful to have grillwork. I am glad to be able to respond to world situations, the media, and various circumstances of life “through the grillwork of the will of God."

I do not have to guess what that will is. God has revealed it.  Scripture and the authentic teachings of the Church make up the bars of my "grille."

I compare this way of seeing to the view a nun might have of someone in her foyer.  Sister stands at the grille, looking out at whoever stands before her.  The foyer is a public part of the monastery, accessible to almost anyone.  In my monastery, I see the "foyer" as my mind.  I invite thoughts there by what I see and hear, but I have little control over what might come in uninvited.  If I turn on TV or walk into a store, all sorts of things push in.  Some are like salesmen in a monastery foyer, displaying catalogs of their wares.  “Have you worried about this today?” the thoughts ask. “Look at this new line of fears - tailor made just for YOU!”  

"God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  I ask God to impress this truth upon me. 

“But consider the pain you’ve been feeling!!” the thoughts insist.
"I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18).  I recite this bar of my grille over and over.

“…But look at you!  You are weak and helpless!”   
“In Him Who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything.” (Philippians 4:13).

And on it goes.  Finding the view is not easy.  I try every day; I fail every day.  But with every “success,” it seems the grillwork grows stronger before me.  It is how God invites me to meet the world.  

"During this changeable life, one must preserve a steady and imperturbable evenness of spirit.  Although everything may change around us, we must keep the serene glance of our soul constantly turned to God. ” (St. Francis de Sales) 


Thursday, February 2, 2017

In This Moment, I Can Choose

The 'awakening' I wrote of yesterday has been life changing. Not only has it led to moment-by-moment prayer, it is also nudging me toward greater virtue. I find that yielding to God's will is much more manageable on a moment by moment basis. 

I suppose I'm taking baby steps toward holiness. It's such a lofty goal, and the path to it seems an impossible climb for a little soul like me. 

It is not an impossible climb for God, however; not if I ask for His grace, and if I let Him lead me step by step.

In each moment I can choose to trust.

In each moment I can choose another's needs over my own. I can swallow words of irritation and speak words of caring. I can manage to sacrifice my own wants during this tiny chunk of time. 

In each moment I can thank God for something. My back may be in pain, but thank You, Lord, that I can move. If I'm suffering from flu: thank You, God, for a comfortable bed. When I am in absolute misery, thank God I can offer my sufferings for the salvation of souls. 

And thank God there's a change in my outlook as I look for and try to focus on the good.

I can praise God, I can smile, I can offer a prayer of intercession. I can hang on for just this one moment. I can take one simple step, asking God to show me how to serve and glorify Him in whatever has come my way. I can offer prayer of love, adoration, repentance - right here, right now.

In this moment, I can choose.

'The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.' (St. Gianna Beretta Molla) 


Painting: Édouard Manet

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Now is the Time

I have written earlier of an 'awakening' I had several years ago. Feeling sad that I'd given too little time to God over the course of my life, too little time to prayer, too much time to trivialities, I experienced a different reaction than I'd had to such thoughts in the past.

Rather than my usual 'woe is me,' I felt a gentle whisper of hope.  If I could put it into a sentence, it was as if I sensed the words: 'but you have right now.'

I have right now.  I cannot turn back the clock and re-live minutes of years ago, last week, or even yesterday morning. However, I have this moment, this place, right now.

I can pray at this very instant, even in the middle of writing this sentence. And I do so.

I can choose anew to live for Christ, in this moment. And I do so.

I have forgotten to pray more often than I'd like to admit during the course of my life. Sometimes I find prayer a struggle.  But in each moment, I am given a new opportunity.  A fresh chance to at least speak to God when I think of Him.  A moment in which I can connect with Him, offer a word of thanks or praise - a moment in which I can start anew.

'I tell you, now is the time of God's favor. Now is the day of salvation.' (2 Corinthians 6:2)

'Every moment comes to us pregnant with a command from God, only to pass on and plunge into eternity, there to remain forever what we have made it.'  (St. Francis de Sales)

I have Right Now. 

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: William McGregor Paxton, Morning Light