I maintain a tide of thought about prayer that ebbs and flows with the gravitational forces in my life, but my greatest and most frequent recurring thought about prayer is that the best we can offer is thanksgiving.
I want to thank You for the special gifts and talents You have bestowed upon me which I am able to share with others. This in spite of the fact that a lot of times others - especially those closest to me - are not all that enthralled by my efforts to share with them. It is You who have bestowed these feelings and talents upon me and have helped me grow and improve in them so that their joy could be spread to others. Somehow I know that it pleases You.
Francis Parkinson Keyes quoted a tale about the gift of the pleasures of earthly things where St. Peter at the gates of heaven says to a new arrival that if he did not enjoy the gifts of terrestrial good things given as gifts, how could he possibly be prepared for the celestial joys of heaven.
Destiny and fate are words that connote a superstitious bent in me; however I truly believe that You’ve built into me an unavoidable attachment to the many earthly joys of Your gifts and, I thank You.
It doesn’t seem quite right to seek after consolations the way I do. I think they can become a stumbling block to learning to love. Certainly I am delighted and encouraged by them in the extreme. Who could not take joyful hope in Your own words to Martha (the busy) concerning Mary (the adoring): "...because she has loved much, much is forgiven her.?" What buoyant words! All I must do is love much and much will be forgiven me. Now that’s superlative consolation to me because, as You know, I have much that needs forgiveness.
The problem is that the interpretation of such words as these or such words as St. Therese’s: "...the mere desire to practice what I should gives me peace", cannot be ends in themselves else they become brick walls to the love and peace of which they speak. These consolations give wonderful hope to the likes of me, but the hope must propel the will. It is not enough to leave it at, "I love much." If I desire to practice what I should, it is not enough to just leave it at that. This love and desire cannot be put on a shelf and taken down when I feel sorry for myself. This love and desire are the continual motivators to seeking a higher degree of each ad infinitum. Of course, there’s no denying that they do simply make me feel good.
Spiritual consolations are a wonderful boost. The delightful surprise of finding them in homilies, in praying, reading, writing, and the thoughts and actions of others is true joy and encouragement. In fact, consolation can easily be taken for approbation - an affirmation that I am personally OK. But there are real pitfalls here. Consolations that I apprehend from sources outside myself are not necessarily signs of Your love and approval even though they may be perceived as such. I already have Your love and approval. These signs are not to be misconstrued. It is not what I do or how I feel about it that saves me. It is simply Your love. It is not my feeling good about myself or what I am doing that contributes to a humble assessment of my direction. On the contrary, it is more likely to contribute to my self-righteous lack of humility. Yet, wallowing in my faults leads me in the other direction.
The ideal consolation seems to be Mary’s one of loving contemplation - a continually unsatisfied desire to love more and to wallow not in one’s own wretchedness but in the knowledge and vision of Your unconditional love for us. The perception of this love should not be feared or shunned but rather taken in as the "sound" of Your encouragement in my life.
In order to drop attachments it would be a wonderful grace to not refer to items as "mine"; to become so detached that the self could thoughtlessly be referred to in the third person. Not "my" car, but "his" car - as if "he" and "I" were separate persons. I think there is this latent duality in me anyway. The essential (interior) me must not allow itself to be attached to the to the "attached" me. Because of who I am, here and now, I have things - things, at times, the caretaking of which, preoccupy the "attached" me. Thus, it might be said that I have a certain attachment to them. More so are events or activities that I enjoy. For these too I bear an attachment. But if, in reality, the attachment can be referred to as "his" rather than "mine", then the true self has succeeded in creating the needed gap between the interior and the exterior (false) self: "his" car, "his" house, "his" music etc.
The power and truth of intention rests in the will. As it is possible that I will to love those I dislike, so it is possible that I will to be detached while attached. "His" attachment is "my" detachment. In fact, were it not for "his" attachment I would not worry about "my" detachment. Pascal says in each situation only one correct perspective works. One must find that spot and mark the perspective from there.
I am alone for a week on a self-styled retreat. Even though I’ve done this a few times before, it is only now that I have begun to learn a detachment from "his" attachment to busyness and activity. There is much peace in indifferently ignoring "his" urges to dosomething, and especially "his" urges to do something now!
This detachment is major for me. It dredges out a clogging sludge that has not allowed me to simply open myself to You in the context of "letting go". The marked perspective here is one of allowing everything else to just "be". The more I detach myself from "his" things, the clearer are the channels for Your graces and Your words.
Now I admit that this "he"-"me" thing may sound a bit contrived, and perhaps it is. But it is more than a rationalization for materialism. There is an urge beyond the possession of things not to be possessed by them, to have them but not allow them to have you - to be free! This urge is at the very core of being and is apart from our pedestrian side. Call it "he", "me", or some other name, but there is this dichotomy the reconciling of which the spiritual life is about.
I like to think of life as Your gift to me and what I do with my life as my gift to You. I also like to think that my proclivity for monkish silence, solitude, and contemplation is the "becoming" of that gift, for I am Your work-in-progress. Both my life and my "becoming" are gifts from You. There, in fact, may not be any gift I can offer You but gratitude and love. If I can abandon myself to this notion and to the notion that my "becoming" is totally in Your hands - not mine, then I think I shall have taken a giant step forward, for it is "becoming " that the spiritual life is all about. This "becoming" must, with trust, be allowed to happen as You will. To let You act in me, placing myself in Your hands, is "becoming". To allow myself to negate my will and abandon myself to Yours is to marry Your gifts and graces to whatever my life is - to whatever "becomes". It is indeed in this sense that I must consider myself a "work-in-progress" - Your work! Even what I think I can give You, like love and gratitude, are owing to the graces You give my will. It is as if You have given me the freedom to choose but are lovingly trying to influence me.
It is a genuine pitfall for me to consider any aspect of my spiritual life as my gift to You. You love each one of us individually and unconditionally - period! Your love is the model for us. You do not love me for anything I can do for You, only because "I am". If I can ever free myself of the large quantity of leaden spiritual dross in my own life, I might be able to love You just because "You are". The work of casting off this dross is the work of contemplation and the inner spiritual life.
You were tangibly, realistically present in the midst of the Jewish people yet most of them missed it. I cannot help but thinking had I been one of them that I too would have missed it.
The things that were special about the disciples and apostles were that they wanted to be in Your presence as much as possible, they were willing to take a huge leap of faith that, in many ways, went counter to their culture and tradition, and they were willing to give up everything to pursue You. The lack of doing these things is what made most Jews miss You.
It is the same with people today. I miss You because I don’t keep You present to me. I miss You because I am unable to make that leap of faith which puts all in Your hands and trusts. I also miss You because I am too busy pursuing other things instead of pursuing You. Though not physically, You are really present in the world right now. But, like the Jews of Your own time, we miss You.
I have this one magnificent gift of life, one grand chance, so to speak, of not missing You. Yet the strongest reality in my life is my "self". There is no doubt that I don’t miss that. But what of other primary realities in my life? If I am able to miss them then certainly (and maybe correspondingly) I ‘m able to miss You. The truth of finding You in others looms large here. If I miss the reality of my wife, my children, my parents, my friends, am I not, therefore, in some degree, missing You? If I miss the joy, beauty and wonder of creation, am I not again missing You?
The point seems to be that if I cannot find You to be real in all the things that make up the reality of my life, then how can I find You at all? In fact, I’ve missed You just as the Jews missed You. Their reality was a political/religious xenophobia that blocked You out. What’s my barrier?
This fear of missing You, of missing Your voice, is very real in my life. I strongly fear that I will not recognize You in the people and things around me. Yet, this fear itself shows a lack of trust in Your love for me. You would not want this to happen, but my "self" could get in Your way. In every conceivable aspect of the spiritual life it turns out that my "self" (or what Fr. Keating would call my "false self") is my devil. This is the demon that will make me miss You.
I’m sure thousands of Jews in Your time hoped and prayed and considered themselves very spiritual. They followed the law to the letter and led good lives. But they missed You! This is terrifying! Am I any better than they? Somehow our own agendas, our own control of this gift of life, our own "false selves" must be released. We cannot be open to Your presence among us, we cannot pursue You, we cannot trust You, without doing this first. You will take care of the rest.
I want to write toYou about the example I am of "cafeteria spirituality". I have this tendency to grab so
mething that looks good at the time, stick with it for awhile, and ultimately go nowhere with it. My periodic infatuations with the likes of St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi, Thomas Merton, Anthony DeMello, and Henri Nouwen have pervaded segments of my spiritual journey and have instilled idealism and vision "out there" - in the future - something to do or be later on. So many of the considerations I might make are held contingent upon other considerations and responsibilities. That’s why I keep wanting to say, "I’ll put it in Your hands and trust You. You’ll let me know." Yet, I’m always stressed by a certain sense of urgency - it’s with me all the time. It is part of a very non-trusting nature which is mine. I know that You understand this and I need You to allow for it while I work on it in my own lame way. There is peace in "letting go" and allowing Your whisper to reach me when You want - not when I want.
Thinking well or highly of myself comes all too naturally to me. Spiritual arrogance is an ugly concept, but it is definitely a weed in my garden. I cannot help but feel immensely blessed, fortunate, happy, joyful, etc., about the steady and continual spiritual growth I am experiencing and about recognizing the workings of Your Spirit within me. This tends to make me feel very good about myself and to forget that it’s not me but You.
The "master camouflager" has deluded me into thinking I’m responsible for what’s taking place now in my life and for allowing - even encouraging - this spiritual arrogance and pride that in any dealings with other people makes me put myself above them. This is probably why I’m not gregarious, indeed even avoid talking to or being with other people, because I recognize this arrogance with others as a big stumbling block and I want to avoid it.
There is, opposed to this, a great amount of substance in Cardinal Bernardine’s idea of "letting go", of life being a kind of "free fall" in Your hands. The concepts of the "cloud of forgetting", "letting go", and "free fall" all have one thing in common: a lack of arrogance. Quite the contrary, what they underscore is immense humility and abandonment. Trust! The thought has occurred to me more than once that the devil doesn’t bother me much because I take care of his work for him, and, because of my arrogance and pride, he’s already got me! Maybe I just have a super guardian angel who keeps him at bay - but I fear the former. There is so much to keep before me to avoid these pitfalls. DeMello’s Sadhanna tenet, "accept life," is rooted in "letting go".
In all things it is true wisdom and humility to remember Your words: "It is not you who choose Me, but I who choose you."
Yes, my BEING proclaims the greatness of God, but does MY being proclaim the greatness of God? Certainly nothing in this world attests to the goodness and love of God more than man. The loving gift of our being, which is the vehicle of our own love and gratitude, cannot be surpassed in attesting to Your greatness. But because of what we do with our gift - our being - some beings proclaim Your greatness more emphatically and more effectively than others.
Does our being indeed PROCLAIM Your greatness or is it just the fact that we exist that shows Your greatness? There’s a real distinction here. The fact that the greatest sinner, the most evil human being has been given life - the gift of potentiality - is, in itself, a testament to Your love and greatness. But the PROCLAMATION of Your greatness, Your goodness, Your love, is only accomplished in one whose being REFLECTS that goodness and love.
If my being proclaims Your greatness, if it shouts it, if others are given pause to consider You through me it’s because, in some way, I mirror Your love and goodness - not just in the fact of my being - but in the practice of my being, in the fulfilling of my potentiality. This magnificent gift is the same to me as to the most evil of men.
So, what is it in an individual being that reflects Your greatness? Certainly we have many and various saints to look to. While they are all different, there are some common denominators in these people who most powerfully reflect and proclaim Your greatness: selflessness, fraternal charity, service, prayer and the radiant wonder that drives one to seek You in all. These are the embellishments of a being which unite its will with Yours and reflect and proclaim Your greatness.
Those whose being proclaims You will be scorned and tested (Wisdom 2:12-20) and at times will be thought to be obnoxious and aloof because their being in not like that of other men and they style themselves as children of God.
In the church bulletin a week or so ago was printed the following item down in one corner: "Saints are just sinners who try harder." I like that! It’s so simple yet so profound. It offers encouragement and hope to someone like me who really wants very strongly to be more saintly but who continuously sees all his efforts in various shades of failure because of his own selfish, stubborn, impatient nature. There is so much dross in my metal that it seems impossible to make it pure. When I look through the eyes of others I see how often I let them down and am a disappointment to them. But with Your help I will continue to "try harder" - that’s what the saints do!