As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.
(Psalm 17:15, ESV)
The last day of the year … welcome to it!
The Seventh Day of Christmas … The next day of the rest of our lives!
This blog began on New Year’s Eve, 2009. We’re still here, and we are more bound at the heart of things than ever before.
In the Book, My Beloved, by Mother Catherine Thomas, she begins her account, the story of her vocational life, on New Year’s Day. It was quite early in the morning, and she was headed for five o’clock Mass, just as a New Year’s Eve party was breaking up in her apartment building. One of the stragglers, a young man, asked if he could accompany her, and as they talked, she found that he was a Catholic. She chided him a bit for the lifestyle he seemed to be indulging, and he went with her to Church, but that friendship could only expand at arm’s length, for she was within days of entering a Carmelite monastery in New York City.
Mother Catherine’s story intrigued me, and from it the idea that there is nothing to stop us, you and me, from entering our own monastic vocation. We won’t be able to have what she had, not the hours in prayer and worship nor the solitude nor the abiding company of like-minded nuns, but I saw that we could have far, far more than we would ever know if we didn’t give it a try. I was at first a bit like the ugly duckling, envying the beauty of the monastic life, and knowing that my own was sketchy, unfocused, and sometimes not even afloat.
That was five years ago, and as most of you know, I now have the choice to make my home a cloister and to devote my life to the Lord and to a Rule in measure more full than I could have dreamed possible when all this began. When it began, I had a husband, a child at home, nearly grown, two daughters out on their own, another son and his wife and two grandchildren. I was busy with innumerable obligations and kept house as ably as my skills and strength would allow. It was a normal life for a woman my age.
Today is the Seventh of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and it represents the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I have listed them below. It is a wonderful list, and Thomas Aquinas went so far as to relate all seven to the Seven Capital Virtues, also listed. These gifts and virtues would make a wonderful review for us here at the end of the calendar year, but I would like to go in a different direction.
As I contemplated these gifts and virtues, it was lovely to see how our Divine Office has supported and promoted each of them in our lives. Our Lectio Divina, of course, the prayerful study of the Word of God, exhorts and edifies us in every dimension. Our Conversatio, the ongoing method by which we make sure small changes, adds up to big conversion of heart for us; our daily Adoration, has no other plan or purpose but to delight in the Lord and in the holy fear of Him, and that is as virtuous a practice as any could ever be.
Our Intercession requires understanding and results in tremendous, unfailing hope and worthy counsel; our Spiritual Rx is fortifying in the extreme. Our practice of daily, extended Thanksgiving strengthens us and our faith, and our determination to spend time Waiting on the Lord gives us wisdom and knowledge beyond all human capability.
Look! There are Seven of those offices, and all of them work together that none of the gifts or the virtues of Christ will escape us.
In most religious houses, there are Seven daily offices as well: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. We are headed in that direction; as for me, I don’t keep all seven offices perfectly yet. (It is crucial to remember that an Office does not have to comprise thirty or forty minutes or more of time: it can be as short as the time it takes to pray for three minutes for a spouse or for children, with thanksgiving. This makes a wonderful practice for “Prime,” the launch of the daily schedule of work, after breakfast.)
So far, as we’ve been honest with ourselves, time has not been the biggest difficulty. Our flesh is the culprit (of course,) aided and abetted by our poor or selfish choices.
No matter. That’s what we are here for, year in and year out. Before long, those seven swans will be swimming over a sea of glass, making use of the time and the calling with which we have been called, with priorities in place, obedient to our own decisions in favor of worship, prayer, and watchfulness. We will begin this New Year with a new look at our Offices, taking care to see that there is fullness and dimension and purpose for each of us, giving a few suggestions as to how to make sure we don’t overlook anything important.
One day we will see our reflection in the nature of Christ Jesus, and we will be so glad that we kept swimming!
Here is a list of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Seven Virtues on the right:
The Fear of the Lord Hope
Vilhelm Pederson, public domain
(illustrator dead for more than 70 years)