A mountain-step plod

Copyright Michael Lai  https://retireediary.wordpress.com
Copyright Michael Lai

“Experienced mountaineers have a quiet, regular, short step–on the level it looks petty; but then this step they keep up, on and on as they ascend, whilst the inexperienced townsman hurries along, and soon has to stop, dead beat with the climb . . . . Such an expert mountaineer, when the thick mists come, halts and camps out under some slight cover brought with him, quietly smoking his pipe, and moving on only when the mist has cleared away . . . . You want to grow in virtue, to serve God, to love Christ?  Well,you will grow in and attain to these things if you will make them a slow and sure, an utterly real, a mountain step-plod and ascent, willing to have to camp for weeks or months in spiritual desolation, darkness and emptiness at different stages in your march and growth.  All demand for constant light, for ever the best–the best to your own feeling, all attempt at eliminating or minimizing the cross and trial, is so much soft folly and puerile trifling.” (Baron Friedrich von Hügel)

Striving for a spiritual life

A very common trend I see during Lent is that of folks trying to figure out a spiritual program for Lent–without consulting God on it.  Sometimes God is just asking us to live our lives in a holy way in the day-to-day events in which He has placed us.

There can be so much escapism in our striving for a “spiritual life.”  We often flee from concrete, apparently banal reality that is filled with with God’s presence to an artificial existence that corresponds with our own ideas of piety and holiness but where God is not present. As long as we want to decide for ourselves where we will find God, we need not fear that we shall meet him!  We will meet only ourselves, a touched-up version of ourselves.  Genuine spirituality begins when we are prepared to die.  Could there be a quicker way to die than to let God form our lives from moment to moment and continually to consent to his action?  (Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.)

Whatever attracts you

We all have times when we struggle about what we’re supposed to be doing at any given moment.

A brother asked a hermit to tell him the proper thing to do with his life.  The hermit replied that only God knows what is good, but that the great Nesteros, a friend of Antony, made a strong point when he said, “God is equally pleased by all good works.  Scripture tells us that Abraham was hospitable and God was with him.  Elijah sought quiet and God was with him.  David had humility and God was with him.  Therefore, whatever attracts you in the service of God is good.  Do it, and let your heart be at peace.”

And God is with you.

Is it time to sit down for lunch?

Each tiny act is an extraordinary event, in which heaven is given to us, in which we are able to give heaven to others.

It makes no difference what we do, whether we take in hand a broom or a pen.  Whether we speak or keep silent.  Whether we are sewing or holding a meeting, caring for a sick person or tapping away at a typewriter.

Whatever it is, it’s just the outer shell of an amazing inner reality: the soul’s encounter, renewed at each moment, in which, at each moment, the soul grows in grace and becomes ever more beautiful for her God.

Is the doorbell ringing?  Quick, open the door!  It’s God coming to love us.  Is someone asking us to do something?  Here you are!  . . . it’s God coming to love us.  Is it time to sit down for lunch?  Let’s go–it’s God coming to love us!

(Madeleine Delbrêl)

My world is so small

A beautiful meditation for all of you mothers out there, from this month’s Magnificat:

“Set your stakes on great ideals, the ideals that enlarge the heart,” Pope Francis exhorted young people early in his pontificate.

This call to greatness sometimes seems out of place here in the trenches of raising two young children.  Still, his words resonate with me.  My world is so small, and my routines are predictable and contained, but I’ve never felt my heart to be so enlarged as now–through long nights and lonely days of painful stretching, yes, but also through the simple bliss of playing raucously with my children on the floor.

I’m likewise drawn to the image of high stakes, of facing life with boldness and conviction.

There are times I feel that having a child is a sheer act of hope, a statement that, yes, we do believe the world is good and worth redeeming, so much so that we will bring children into it–not to hide in our bunkers, but to teach them to bring Christ’s love to where it’s needed most.  And constantly I’m reminded how the sacrifices of parenthood and marriage fly in the face of a world so taken by self-centeredness, guardedness, and materialism.  Our yes at the altar is repeated every day: to each other, to the needy toddler, to the invitation to allow our hearts to be stretched and filled.

The call to greatness, to holiness, is for all of us, regardless of how limited our spheres may seem.  I can’t answer for others, but what I’m finding is that underlying my small world of home and family is something timeless, expansive, and beautiful.  And that’s something to set my stakes on.

~Elizabeth Hansen

Small things

Small Things

Anna Kamieńska

It usually starts taking shape
from one word
reveals itself in one smile
sometimes in the blue glint of eyeglasses
in a trampled daisy
in a splash of light on a path
in quivering carrot leaves
in a bunch of parsley
It comes from laundry hung on a balcony
from hands thrust into dough
It seeps through closed eyelids
as through the prison wall of things of objects
of faces of landscapes
It’s when you slice bread
when you pour out some tea
It comes from a broom from a shopping bag
from peeling new potatoes
from a drop of blood from the prick of a needle
when making panties for a child
or sewing a button on a husband’s burial shirt
It comes of toil out of care
out of the immense fatigue in the evening
out of tear wiped away
out of a prayer broken off in mid-word by sleep

It’s not from the grand
but from the tiny thing
that it grows enormous
as if Someone was building Eternity
as a swallow its nest
out of clumps of moments

Just around the corner

I know it’s Ordinary Time, but our house still has one foot in the Christmas season.  As most of you know, we started following the Vatican custom of leaving our lights and crèche up until February 2, the Feast of the Presentation (which is 40 days after Christmas).  (Check out the webcam at St. Peter’s if you doubt me–or even if you don’t doubt me.  It’s so cool.)  I say all of this as an excuse to share this meditation by Fr. Richard G. Smith on a seventeenth-century crèche.  It’s good anytime of the year:

“The Christmas Trees of New York City”

Most tourists visiting New York City in December find their way to the famous Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.  Unfortunately, far fewer will discover a less famous, though even more beautiful, tree a few blocks north of Rockefeller Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Actually, the tree itself is not particularly  noteworthy–it is the seventeenth-century crèche from Naples, Italy, which surrounds the tree that makes it worth a visit.  There we see all the usual character: dozens of angels, the shepherds and sheep, the wise men, the donkey and ox, Mary and Joseph.

What makes the crèche so unusual, though, are all the other scenes around it–vignettes of everyday life in seventeenth-century Naples.  Among the many scenes  we see a man walking a dog, a little boy dragging his mother somewhere, a woman baking bread in the kitchen, a man sleeping by the water fountain, even a young man flirting with a young woman.  There is something beautifully human and real about these representations.  And while they are all very beautiful, ultimately they are just scenes of simple people in their ordinary, everyday lives.  That is what is so wonderful about the crèche: if any one of those ordinary people living their ordinary lives were to just turn the corner (around the tree), they would find the wondrous scene of the newly born Jesus surrounded by Mary, Joseph, and the dozens of angels.  The newborn Jesus is so clase to any one of them, that they could walk up and touch him.  And that’s the point of the crèche.  God is that close.

In St. Luke’s telling, the birth of Jesus is revealed first of all to ordinary people, people like you and me, in the midst of their work who only need turn the corner to discover the God who wants no distance between us and himself.

(from Praying with Saint Luke’s Gospel, Magnificat Press)

Here’s a photo of the crèche.  You can see more detail here.