Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Holy Week at My Favorite Place

Well, not all of Holy Week will be spent at my favorite place. I'll be leaving home on Wednesday (tomorrow, as I write this), to spend the remaining days in that little piece of Heaven on earth where the extraordinary form of the Mass reigns supreme. We'll be singing Tenebrae, too, which is something I really look forward to. 

Here are some "spring" pictures for you to enjoy. We've had such nice weather recently, and there is nothing like a huge expanse of blue sky with snow-capped mountains against it to bring to my heart a renewed love for God's creation! Gray skies with interesting cloud formations can do the same. 

I hope you all have a truly holy Holy Week, and a Paschal celebration filled with reverence and awe.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Watch Inwardly and Outwardly

From Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

Abba Poemen said that a brother asked Abba Simon, “If I come out of my cell and find my brother amusing himself, I amuse myself with him; and if I find him in the act of laughing, I laugh with him. Then when I return to my cell, I am no longer at peace.”

The old man said to him, “So, when you come out of your cell and find people laughing or talking, you want to laugh and talk with them; and when you return to your cell, you expect to find yourself as you were before?”

The brother said, “What should I do?”

The old man replied, “Be watchful inwardly; be watchful outwardly.”

I had an experience the other night that reflected this “saying” perfectly. It was late in the evening, and I ended up having a three-way “text” conversation with my daughter and another person. It was amusing, and I enjoyed the interaction with both of them at the time.
But like the brother in the excerpt above, afterwards, I was no longer at peace. It wasn’t that we talked or laughed about anything inappropriate; it’s just that it was so mundane, so worldly.  I made a note to myself not to engage in such conversations when I am in my “cell”.  My “cell” is a place where I actually have the opportunity to enjoy silence and solitude, and I willingly gave that up for an amusing conversation.

I think also that when we are watchful inwardly and outwardly, we can engage in such amusing conversations, but still maintain peace. That takes some effort, but I believe that if we nurture the “hermitage of our hearts” we can be strengthened to avoid such conversations when we should, and to enjoy them in moderation when it is appropriate to have them.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Necessity of Hermits

I'm reading a book I've had for a while; in fact, I had forgotten I had it until I saw it featured on a blog called City Desert (where many interesting things about hermits are posted!).  The book is Blessed Athanasia and The Desert Ideal. It’s actually two books, and The Desert Ideal is the first section. I was not sure whether I had read any of it before, even though I’ve had it for some time (ah, that is the way I am with books! I buy them, and then they remain unopened because I get distracted by a different book!).  I think I may have read the part about Blessed Athanasia before.

But now I'm reading the first part, The Desert Ideal, and finding it particularly meaningful. The other night I was reading a section that made me see the utter necessity of hermits.  

The author, using quotes from Russian Orthodox saints (it’s a Russian Orthodox book and author) and his own commentary points out that the “desert ideal” is not really about going out to the desert to pray for others, although that is certainly a part of it; it’s about going to the desert to purify oneself of one’s own sins, to reach ever upwards toward God, to strive to unite with the spirit of God and eschew the spirit of man. The author says, “The great desert saints fled to the wilderness to repent over their sins, not to do the world a favor.” I like that quote.

Being alone – truly alone – makes one realize one’s vulnerability and weakness, and the hermit comes to realize his utter dependence on the Almighty.  “There are no neighbors there, no policemen or doctors, no security. If he falls ill or is injured, there is no one to help him. The monk must throw himself unreservedly on God’s care, not in a spirit of testing or pride…but with profound self-distrust, and surrender to God’s will.” That is not any easy task!

When an individual grows in holiness and becomes closer to God, the whole Body of Christ benefits, even if we can’t see a tangible good. I think of it as the hermit being like the fingertips of a hand reaching out for God; the closer those fingertips come to God, the closer the Body is to grasping His truth. I was thinking about this, too, in the sense of a rock climber (a pastime in which I have never engaged, and have no desire to!). The rock climber has to find little ledges and clefts in the rock, and I imagine he has to have strong fingers and toes to grasp at these handholds and footholds, and support the rest of his body as he climbs. The hermit is like those fingers and toes clinging to the chinks in the vast face of God, ever seeking the next niche in which to extend his hand and climb higher.

So, we need hermits. They are raising up the Body of Christ to the Mind of God.

In the book, the author talks about the fact that in modern times, people discount the notion of the “old school” hermits who actually lived in isolation in a real desert (or forest, in the case of Russian hermits).  They say the vocation is irrelevant, or that it is impossible to live that way nowadays. He discounts this idea, however. And to my mind, the eremitic vocation is perhaps even more necessary now.  No wonder Satan wants to eradicate it, and cover it up in various ways!  No wonder one hermit of my acquaintance has been told by his bishop not to wear his monastic habit in public, but to be seen in “everyday” circumstances only in standard clerical blacks and collar! If we saw hermits coming into town occasionally to procure necessities of life – if they were clearly identifiable by their monastic garb – we might have an upsurge in monastic vocations. Satan would not like that, would he?

So, even though I am not consecrated, and may never be, I think I still must continue to live out the eremitic vocation as best I can, juggling it with my lay vocation. Someday, I hope I can live in greater isolation, but right now I am content to continue the juxtaposition of one vocation against the other. Perhaps it is not the “desert ideal”, but it is the “ideal” that God has for me right now.\

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Comic Relief: Action Figure

Really, I'm quite serious about my vocation. I also like to laugh now and then, and I think God does, too. I'm sure He has a better sense of humor than anyone else, because He is, after all, God!

In that light-hearted vein...I found this little action-figure nun on e-bay - she's called "Warrior Nun Areala", and I guess she's a cartoon or comic book character. The background story really isn't all that bad, from a Catholic point of view, as far as I can tell. Anyway, I have renamed her Stealth Hermitess, of course, and have been amusing myself by occasionally taking pictures of her a la "Elf on a Shelf":
Stealth Hermitess enjoying the Christmas tree:

Stealth Hermitess in the study:

Stealth Hermitess swings into action!

Stealth Hermitess confronts the Evil Spider:

Stealth Hermitess confronts the Evil Serpent (okay, it's a worm...but still!):

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Holy Hammer Takes a Hit

I’ve written before about my “holy hammer”.  The idea came from the story of St. Marina the Great Martyr, Vanquisher of Demons. You can see the post here.

I fixed up the hammer with a rosary and a couple of medals. It’s even been blessed (actually, it's primarily the rosary which was blessed in the process, as there is no "blessing for a hammer").

Today I needed to pray extra special hard for a priest who is facing persecution and harassment at the hands of his own bishop (aided by a certain vicar general).  I made use of that hammer with the rosary attached!

It was a tough battle. It was so tough, the rosary broke. I’m sure it did some damage to those demons, though.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Grace of the Present Moment

Here are some quotes from Providence by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. These are from the section on “The Grace of the Present Moment and Fidelity in Little Things”. There are some great nuggets of wisdom and contemplation in that section!

He starts out the section saying:

We were saying that the duty we must accomplish with every succeeding hour is the expression of God's will for each one of us individually hic et nunc and thus conveys a certain practical instruction very valuable for sanctification. It is the Gospel teaching as applied to the various circumstances of our lives, a real object-lesson imparted by almighty God Himself.

If we could only look on each moment from this point of view, as the Saints did, we should see that to each moment there is attached not only a duty to be performed, but also a grace to be faithful in accomplishing that duty.

He often quotes from de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence. Here’s one such reference:

The present moment is ever filled with in finite treasures; it contains more than you have capacity to hold. Faith is the measure. Believe, and it will be done to you accordingly. Love also is the measure. The more the heart loves, the more it desires; and the more it desires, so much the more will it receive. The will of God presents itself to us at each moment as an immense ocean that no human heart can fathom; but what the heart can receive from this ocean is equal to the measure of our faith, confidence and love.  The whole creation cannot fill the human heart, for the heart's capacity surpasses all that is not God. The mountains that are terrifying to look at, are but atoms for the heart. The divine will is an abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. Plunge into this abyss and you will always find it infinitely more vast than your desires. Do not flatter anyone, nor worship your own illusions; they can neither give you anything nor take anything from you. You will receive your fullness from the will of God alone, which will not leave you empty. Adore it, put it first, before all other things. ... Destroy the idols of the senses. ...When the senses are terrified, or famished, despoiled, crushed, then it is that faith is nourished, enriched, and enlivened. Faith laughs at these calamities as the governor of an impregnable fortress laughs at the futile attacks of an impotent foe.

Back to Fr. G-L:

As the present minute is passing, let us likewise bear in mind that what exists is not merely our body with its sensibility, its varying emotions of pain and pleasure; but also our spiritual and immortal soul, and the actual grace we receive, and Christ Who exerts His influence upon us, and the Blessed Trinity dwelling within us. We shall then have some idea of the infinite riches contained in the present moment and the connection it has with the unchanging instant of eternity into which we are someday to enter. We should not be satisfied with viewing the present moment along the horizontal line of time, as the connecting link between a vanished past and an uncertain temporal future; we ought rather to view it along that vertical line of time which links it up with the unique instant of unchanging eternity. Whatever happens, let us say to ourselves: At this moment God is present and desires to draw me to Himself.

I pray for the grace to live my life in that way.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ora et...

"Ora", yes, but let someone else do the "labora"?!

Ha! Here is a funny twist to my little "Altarations" business: a friend had sent the link to a parish he thought might be interested in ordering an antependia or two. It was obvious from my stat counter, that someone at that parish was looking at every page of that little blog, over and over again! That was kind of exciting, and I was pleased about the prospect of a little extra income. The candle supply is dwindling, you know!

But then...I'll spare you all the details...my friend and I figured out that the parish in question was probably going to make the antependium themselves! I put a lot of info on that blog regarding the process of making an antependium, and even the source I use for fabric; and I did so with the intention of enabling others to do what I do. So in the big scheme of things, I am not at all unhappy that the parish would use that information in order to create their own paraments.  It's really about bringing beauty and majesty and proper "vestments" to the altar of God, after all!

I am a little disappointed, though. I really do enjoy making those things. But I do have my own projects. All these years that I've had my chapel (coming up on the 10-year anniversary in September!), I have never had a rose-colored antependium for use on those two Sundays of the year when that color is allowed (Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday in Advent; and Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday in Lent). But one is in the works! It's VERY pink, though. This was the best fabric I have found in all these years. 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What People Think About Heaven

The other day, my hiking pal and I had just completed a short hike. It was nice to be able to go on a hike at all; the weather’s been so mild this year, we were actually able to up into the mountains a bit. Anyway, I guess because he was so thrilled with being able to be out in the wilderness (as was I, actually!), he said, “I really want to be in Heaven with you!”

I interjected, “Well, then, you’d better become Catholic.”

It’s a bit of a sore point between us, so he ignored my comment and went on, “Maybe God would let us hike in all kinds of beautiful places together, and maybe He would even let us hike on other planets, all around the universe!”

I find it interesting to hear what other people think Heaven will be like. To me, it seems that most people have a vision of Heaven that is little more than an abundance of whatever they think makes them happy here on earth, and an absence of anything unpleasant. 

On Face Book, you see those who consider themselves Christians often saying things or posting “memes” that say things along the lines of “If you have a mom or dad in Heaven, like and share this post!” Or even, “If you know some angels in Heaven [meaning someone you know who has died, and is now, therefore, an “angel”), share this post!” Then there’s the occasional post about someone who has died: “So-and-So went to be with Jesus last night.” And people talk about their deceased pets meeting them at the Pearly Gates. These things irritate me because…well, because they are not reflections of Catholic theology, for one thing!

I think Heaven is about being one with God. And if you are one with God, then whatever needs are being fulfilled here on earth by things like hiking, or pets, or relationships with others, are completed filled by God’s presence; then there would be no need of the things we think we enjoy and “love” in our earthly bodies. I’m not sure what Catholic theology has to say about that, really, but I do know that Heaven is not just an extension of earth!

Probably one of my all-time favorite quotes on this subject is found in the preface of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, by St. John Climacus. It is actually a quote from St. Augustine, and it says:

Imagine a man in whom the tumult of the flesh goes silent, in whom the images of earth, of water, of air and of the skies cease to resound. His soul turns quiet and, self-reflecting no longer, it transcends itself. Dreams and visions end. So too does all speech and every gesture, everything in fact which comes to be only to pass away. All these things cry out: 'We did not make ourselves. It is the Eternal One Who made us.' And after they have said this, think of them falling silent, turning to listen to the One Who created them. And imagine Him speaking. Himself, and not through the medium of all those things. Speaking Himself. So that we could hear His word, not in the language of the flesh, not through the speech of an Angel, not by way of a rattling cloud or a mysterious parable. But Himself. The One Whom we love in everything. Imagine we could hear Him without them. Reaching out with speeding thought we come to Him, to the Eternal Wisdom which outlasts everything. And imagine if sight of Him were kept available, while all lesser sights were taken away. Think of this encounter, seizing, absorbing, drawing the witness into the depths of joy. Eternal life would be of a kind with this moment of understanding.' (Confessions ix, 10, 25)

I think that is simply beautiful, something to yearn for! And it has colored my thoughts on Heaven since I first read it (probably 10 years ago). 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.