Friday, April 17, 2015

A Home in Accord

'The home must be in accord with the Church, that all harmful influences be withheld from the souls of children. Where there is true piety in the home, purity of morals reigns supreme.'

St. John Vianney







Painting: Franz von Defregger, Grace Before Meal

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Like No Other Bread


'The Bread which comes down from heaven is such that he who eats of it never dies. I myself am the living Bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he shall live forever. And now, what is this Bread which I am to give? It is my flesh, given for the life of the world.' (Jesus, in John 6:50-52)


Painting: Jan van Kessel, 1670

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Those With Whom We Live

'Among all those who come under the heading of neighbor, there is no one who deserves this name more than those with whom we live. These are the closest to us, living under the same roof and eating the same bread. Hence they must be among the main recipients of our love. Toward them we must show true charity, which is not to be based on flesh and blood, nor on their personal qualities, but solely on God.'


St. Francis de Sales





Painting: Carl Thomsen, A Sunday Afternoon

Monday, April 13, 2015

Wordwatching


'At times one word is enough to placate an angry person.

'Similarly, one word is enough to dishearten a soul and cause a bitterness which might prove very harmful.'

St. Francis de Sales


Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Call

Having just prepared this for re-posting elsewhere, I've realized this story of my long ago "re-conversion" has apparently never been shared on this blog. 

I think it's about time it were.... 

It was as insistent, sometimes, as a telephone ringing.  A persistent "come… come… come" that I couldn’t quite ignore.  Walking by the stairs leading up to the chapel of my high school, I almost always sensed that pull.  I imagined I felt the way steel might in the presence of a strong magnet.  Only, steel would not try to pull away as I often did.  

I was eighteen.  The year before, rather quietly, God had begun to make Himself real to me, and I found I wanted to grow closer to Him.  So I had left public high school for a Catholic girls’ academy taught by semi-cloistered nuns.  In this place of peace and stillness a path was cleared for the Lord’s gentle voice to get through to me.  At first I stopped long enough to listen.  But as the school year progressed, I became more and more afraid of what the Lord was actually calling me to do. 

This concern was particularly striking one day when my Speech teacher stopped me after class.

"I had a little dream about you last night," Sister said with a gentle smile.  "I dreamed you joined our Order here…"  

I was suddenly aware of a hammering in my chest and ears, and of heat rising in my cheeks.  I think I managed to murmur something halfway coherent as I hurried away, wondering "what is God trying to tell me?  Was that merely an idle dream that Sister thought I’d find amusing?"  Or was it something else.  Everyone I’d known who appeared to really love the Lord seemed to be in a convent or serving as a priest.  Surely God didn’t call anyone as I’d felt Him calling me unless it was to be a Religious.

I had something different in mind for my life.  A husband, children, and perhaps a career in the Arts - these were my goals.  Becoming a nun wasn’t exactly on my itinerary.  I wanted to serve God, but what if He asked for what I then considered the ultimate sacrifice?

I dealt with this the only way I thought possible.  I began to ignore the "nudges."  This was not hard to do, for there were so many things to interest an active eighteen year old girl.  It didn’t take long at all before it seemed any sense of a "call" was gone.

Perhaps I felt relief when seeds of unbelief were planted during my college years.  After all, if God wasn't there, I wouldn't have to concern myself with what He did or did not ask of me.  I didn’t believe or dis-believe at that point; I merely developed a rather convenient "God doesn’t bother me and I don’t bother Him" philosophy.  The only trouble was that God did bother me, more than I dared admit to myself.  My attendance at Sunday Mass drifted from "regular" to "occasional," and I stopped praying altogether.  Yet God still had a way of popping into my mind at unexpected times.

At twenty one, I began to feel a renewed interest in faith and went back to attending Mass on a weekly basis.  I even made attempts at prayer.  I became involved in the activities of the Catholic student center at my University, and it was there that I met the young man I married.  For years after our wedding I considered myself a good Catholic.  I never missed Mass on Sunday, I was free of mortal sin, so I figured I was pretty well off.

God was totally unreal to me, however.  I prayed only rarely, and spent much of my spare time reading books on secular philosophy and pop psychology and "the meaning of life" (those basically making a case for life having no meaning whatsoever).  Seeds of unbelief sown years earlier thus found a medium for growth. 

I don’t know when it first dawned on me that I no longer believed in God at all, but in order to keep from shaking my husband, I kept quiet about it.  My family had no idea that I sat at Mass Sunday after Sunday wondering "how educated people could believe all this." 

And then something happened.  Now, many years later, I can only look upon this sudden occurrence as a breakthrough of the grace of God.


To my surprise, I prayed my first prayer in years.  I was somehow nudged to say, aloud, "God, I don’t believe in you, but if you’re real, and if you can hear me, I’m asking you to show me once and for all who or what you are."  And I told him that if he did this, I would follow him - whatever he was. 

I felt utterly absurd, as if I'd just spoken to the air.  But I did have a sense that something had begun.

It was a sporadic beginning.  I started reading everything I could find about great religious of the world.  Christianity?  Yes, that too - but only in an encyclopedia.  After all, I’d been raised in Catholic schools - I figured I knew all there was to know about that one.  As far as what I was finding in my many other books... it seemed I just kept hitting brick walls.  

   A few weeks after that first prayer, however, I happened to spot a Bible on my bookshelf.  It occurred to me that this particular title had been a bestseller for quite a few years, and I had never even read it.  A major literary lapse!  I should at least pick it up and have a look.  After all, what could it hurt…?

I opened to the gospel of Matthew and began to read.


Several days later, I had read through to the gospel of John.  I don’t know if my mind grasped a thing, but some part of me seemed to somehow be "absorbing."

I read in stolen moments.  And then the most surprising thing happened.  I found that rather than merely reading a nice historical account, I was in fact meeting someone.  It was as though He stepped right out of the pages, out through the thees and thous of the translation, and in some un-voiced way spoke to me.


The sense was of a voice I knew from sometime long ago, saying "come…  come… come…"

This time I said yes.

I told Him I didn’t really understand what was happening to me.  I had no idea how I could have come to believe it.  I only knew that Jesus Christ was right there, in the room with me.  I knew I believed in Him, I knew I loved Him.  I was willing to follow Him anywhere.  

Things changed after that, certainly.  I wanted to pray, I wanted to read the Bible, I wanted to love God and everyone around me.  I wanted to meet others who loved Jesus as I did, so I prayed to be led to them.... and I was.

In time, one of these new friends was asked to provide music for a meeting in a town not far away.  As it "happened," this was scheduled to take place at the convent/monastery where I’d gone to high school.  My friend asked me to go with her.   I considered this invitation for awhile before giving a response.  

I had never been one of those who went back to visit the Sisters after graduation.  By now, I felt nervous at the very thought of returning.  But with my chest and ears hammering, I told my friend yes.   

We walked in the door right beside the stairs leading up to the chapel.  I literally gasped at the still-familiar sight.  It was just as I’d remembered.  The banisters with their warm patina were just the same, as were the creaky wooden floors.  Even though the Sisters were not teaching school there anymore, I half expected a young girl in uniform blazer and regulation saddle shoes to tiptoe down the hall at any moment.  

We gathered in what had been the students’ refectory for the meeting.  Sisters filed in quietly, and I was busy searching their faces for one I could recognize.  Nope: not even one.  

Before long, the laypersons and nuns assembled into small groups.  In mine, there was one Sister who seemed too young to have been here when I was a student.  So why was I feeling a growing sense of recognition?  It was as though she reminded me of someone I’d once known.  

It was when this Sister came over to me after the meeting that I realized she had been one of my teachers;  a kind, encouraging soul who’d once told me I should consider a career in Speech.  My mind suddenly saw her standing before me, smiling, saying "I had a little dream about you last night.  I dreamed you joined our Order here..."

Had the Lord been calling me when I was eighteen?  Certainly.  And I am quite sure that if I’d stopped to listen, I would have been led to the exact vocation He had ready for me:  that of wife and mother.  The fruit of my marriage has been wonderful, and I do not doubt that it was my call.  I did err at eighteen, however, when I did not give God so much as a chance to "speak."

As it was, He kept trying to get through, year after year, while my line stayed busy.

Thank God I finally stopped to listen, and to realize that I could belong to Him even though I wasn't living in a convent.

I have answered the call. 

(This is an edited version of the article "The Call," originally published in a Catholic magazine no longer in existence. This edition is © 2012 Nancy Shuman, all rights reserved. Reposted in 2015 at thebreadboxletters.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The House of Your Father

"Once, when I was deeply moved by the thought of eternity and its mysteries, my soul became fearful; and when I pondered about these a little longer, I started to be troubled by various doubts. Then Jesus said to me:   

'My child, do not be afraid 
of the house of your Father.'"

St. Faustina Kowalska, Diary 290












Photo of Shrine of Divine Mercy, Stockbridge MA, by C. Wells

Friday, April 10, 2015

Of the Graces of Your Great Mercy

Holy Spirit, 'Send the dew of Your sweetness, and grant that, with my senses under control, my soul and my spirit may enjoy the fullness of the graces of Your great mercy. Cultivate the impressionable ground of my hardened heart of flesh so that it may be able to receive Your spiritual seed and make it bear fruit. We confess that only through Your great wisdom do the gifts blossom and grow in us.' 

St. Gregory of Narek


Painting: Wisinger-Florian Im Garten, in US public domain due to age

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Revisiting Honey


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 have seen wolves come amongst us, oh - so many times.  In saying this, I'm not thinking of people, but of ideas and ungodly "values" that creep in, usually in sheeps' clothing.  They enter in the name (very often) of freedom, tolerance, rights, prosperity, pleasure, modernization, fairness, justice for all.  Not wanting to be unkind, we can let them prowl freely among our families and groups 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.  Besides, we don't want to appear, well... you know.  Uncool.  Behind the times.  Uncharitable. 

It can take a lot to not go along with the popular, trendy wolves.  But if we know the truth and refuse to share it, are we acting in genuine charity toward the sheep?  Francis would say no.

However, there are a couple of ways of sharing.  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 in fake ones, but in words and actions that carry a genuine kindness that enables our fellow sheep to hear.  After all, 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 all know there are wolves of ungodly values running rampant.  I don't have to name them; we see them everywhere. 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 silence could be staggering.

But we dare not speak without honey.

We dare not speak without love.

'I take in my hands the two rays that spring from Your merciful Heart; that is, the blood and the water; and I scatter them all over the globe so that each soul may receive Your mercy...'  (St. Faustina)

This was first posted here in 2012. I share this slightly edited version as part of "It's Worth Revisiting Wednesday." Click this line to find gems from other Catholic bloggers.







© 2015 Nancy Shuman
thebreadboxletters.blogspot.com

Monday, April 6, 2015

How Bloggers' Heads Explode

I'm still doing a bit of blogkeeping around here. Changing the header, mostly, which you may have noticed, and maybe noticed again. And, well... possibly again. I don't close the blog while I try different things, lest anyone think this spot on the Internet has left the building.

But I really should get in better shape before I do such heavy lifting. I can't even remember how many different headers have been on here in the last two weeks, and now I think I am definitely might be getting just a teeensy bit compulsive about the whole thing.

There are so many things to consider, after all. Like wondering whether or not Mr. Homer would have approved of my using his painting in this way, even if it IS in public domain. And of course I do have photos lying around, but I would prefer to use a painting because paintings are mostly what are used in the blog itself and it's nice if a header gives some clue as to actual blog content but it would be nice if I could use something I didn't feel I was borrowing from someone else but it's not like I paint although I once did but gosh I haven't done a painting myself since 1824. Give or take a year. 

(is it remotely possible that I'm overthinking this?)

Are you still with me?

You ARE?!?!?!!!  In the face of such heroism, I have nothing left to say. Except thank you, and please stay tuned.

Painting: Pieter de Hooch

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

May We Not Ignore


My preference for realistic religious art, I have realized, goes beyond just personal taste.  Some years ago, I wrote the following … 

It is easy to accept shining, sterile depictions of Jesus’s passion.  It’s easy to prefer silvered crosses with a victorious Christ upon them, for these do not ask much of us.  ‘Take up your cross and follow Me’ can be distant words then, words from which we are insulated by a safe coating of bronze.

His body did not shine that day, so long ago.  He hung from a very real wood cross, He hung bruised and sweating and blood-stained.  His knees were scraped, His face contorted with pain.  Smells were of blood and dust and just-hammered metal.  There was no upbeat music that day; there were no songbooks, no guitars.  There were just the moans of people dying and friends watching them die.  There were crowd-sounds, possibly a joke or two, the occasional slap of a whip striking the ground.  Soldiers held back mourners and yelled out commands and probably thought about what they would do after work.

Overhead, a few clouds gathered.  Rain came then, soaking onlookers and washing rivulets of blood into the ground.  Three men hung dying that day, on crosses not made of silver.  They were pierced through with nails not coated with gold.  Three men writhed in pain, they sweated and bled, two of them were heard praying, and all of them died.

And how grateful we can be that the scene has been removed from us, safely tucked away in time, safely burnished.  How safe it is to hear the words ‘take up your cross and follow Me’ when looking at a cross made of silver, when meditating on a resurrected, stylized and sterile Jesus.  Yes, He was resurrected and yes He is crowned.  Yes, He lives today; He is not dead any longer.  Yes, it is appropriate to celebrate His rising, for risen is how He lives now among us.

But no, it is not appropriate to totally forget the price He paid for our redemption.  No, it is not appropriate to ignore the love poured out on us at Calvary, nor to ignore at what cost we answer the call to ‘come, follow Me…'

It is easy to count the cost when that cost is only Mass on Sunday and no meat on Good Friday.  It’s easy to embrace crosses of silver.  It is easy to forget to repent, to forget the love of so great a Lover, to forget to reform my life and allow my own selfish will to be crucified today...

This is a repost from The Cloistered Heart


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It's Not Too Late



'To the one who still remains in this world, no repentance is too late.'

St. Cyprian





Painting: Giovanni Bellini

Monday, March 30, 2015

Will I Walk With Him?


'O Christians, it is time to defend your King
and to accompany Him in such great solitude.'

St. Teresa of Avila





Painting: James Tissot 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

With Works of Piety

'Rise now,
O handmaid of the Lord,
and go in the procession
of the daughters of Zion
to see your true king....
Accompany the Lord
of heaven and earth,
sitting on the back of the colt,
follow Him with
olive branches and palms,
with works of piety
and triumphant virtues.'

St. Bonaventure 









 





Painting: James Tissot

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What Further Delights



'When you view fields and seashores, flowers and fruits, which gladden you with their appearance or with their fragrance, say: How many beautiful things God has made for me on this earth in order that I may love Him!  What further delights He has in store for me in heaven!'


St. Alphonsus de Liguori



N Shuman photo