Follow Me

images.jpeg

How blessed St. Matthew was that the Lord called him as he was, and not as he ought to be. And how blesssed are we that the same Lord calls each one of us as we are, and not as we ought to be. Yet, like St. Matthew, let us not shrink from allowing the Lord to bring us from where we are, to where we ought to be.

For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus, St. Paul says, your sanctification.

 

Advertisements

Pray Like a Pirate

A slightly longer version of my bulletin column for this week:

Ahoy me maties! The official summer beach season might have drawn to a close but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep the spirit of the high seas with you all year ‘round, and not just in the sand that never seems to leave your car trunk despite all the vacuuming (like Christmas tree needles in your living room).

You can keep the good beach vibes going day in and day out. How you may ask? By praying like a pirate! Yes, a pirate! We find in their salty grunt of ARRR! an easy acronym to help us pray from the heart and engage in that very important act in our spiritual lives called “mental prayer.” What is mental prayer? Allow St. Teresa of Avila’s definition be the touchstone for our brief reflection today: “Mental Prayer is nothing else than an intimate friendship, a frequent heart-to-heart with Him by whom we know ourselves to be loved.”

As it was taught to me, ARRR stands for “Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond. Yet, before delving into these prayer steps, we must note the necessary preconditions for a devoted time of prayer, most important of which is silence. As any realtor will tell you: “Location, location, location!” Is where I am “`praying going to allow for sufficient silence and leave me disposed to receive from God or will I be hindered by countless external distractions (we already have enough internal distractions!). Related to this consideration would be to turn off (fancy that!) your various mobile devices. Another precondition might be, again related to keeping our attention fixed on God, do I benefit from the use of some image that directs my heart and mind to the Lord; an icon of Our Lord, a Crucifix, an image of Our Lady, for example. On a personal note, when I first began to pray the Divine Office of the Church before I entered the seminary, I used a little traditional image of the Trinity to help remind me to Whom I was praying and to direct my heart’s attention to the Divine Persons. It’s something that I still pull out and use in prayer from time to time. On to ARRR.

Acknowledge: This first step pertains to becoming aware of my interior affective movements. What is stirring in my heart at this particular moment? As Deacon James Keating from the Institute for Priestly Formation says, “We must present ourselves in such a way that Christ can enter our hearts with truth” (The Eucharist and Healing the Affection for Sin). When we come before God in prayer, we must come before Him truthfully, opening our hearts to Him fully, and that requires that we become aware and acknowledge what is drawing the attention of my heart at a particular time.

Relate: After having recognized what’s moving my heart to joy, or gratitude, or peace, or conversely, to pain, desolation, heaviness, I then must do something with it. In other words, I have to tell God about it and allow Him to enter the intimacy of my interior life; this will require that we be vulnerable and permit the Lord access to our hearts. As Deacon Keating reminds us, “It is a huge interior leap to move from awareness of . . . [our] thoughts, feelings and desires to actually relating them to God [all emphases are mine].”

Receive: Herein we have the shining example of Our Lady for she teaches us the mystery and importance of receptivity in relation to God through her Fiat at the Annunciation; in her humble acceptance of God’s plan for salvation through the Incarnation we see that “the most fruitful activity of the human person is to be ‘able to receive’ God” (Fr. Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship). When we go to a confidant with a problem, we must first open our hearts and bring the other into the tension of moment, and explain the current predicament. But a time comes for us to be silent and allow the other to speak back and so receive his or her advice. If this is true in human relations, it is all the more true in our relationship with God. In this step of receiving, we allow ourselves to hear God’s response.

Respond: God’s response beckons us to respond. Grounded in the grace we have received from the Lord, we must go forth from that prayer empowered to cooperate with Him in the nitty gritty of everyday life: to change vice into virtue, stubbornness to humble acceptance, and

Praying at Mass brings with it the benefits of prescribed words and actions. It can be easy to pray at Mass: the Sacred Liturgy gives us what to say and what to do. However, when we go to prayer on our own we often encounter the double edged sword of lack of words and actions; we don’t know what to say or do. Enter ARRR and it’s goal of helping us pray from the heart and growing in that loving intimacy which God so wishes to share with us. Closing now, let us look to the words of St. Peter Alcantara, that master spiritual director from sixteenth century Spain and close confidant of St. Teresa of Avila:

“In mental prayer, the soul is . . . nourished with charity, confirmed in faith, and strengthened in hope; the mind expands, the affections dilate, the heart is purified, truth becomes evident; temptation is conquered, sadness dispelled; the senses are renovated; drooping powers revive; tepidity ceases; the rust of vices disappears. Out of mental prayer issues forth, like living sparks, those desires of heaven which the soul conceives when inflamed with the fire of divine love. Sublime is the excellence of mental prayer, great are its privileges; to mental prayer heaven is opened; to mental prayer heavenly secrets are manifested and the ear of God [is] ever attentive.”

Go on, give ARRR a try, you won’t be disappointed!

Nothing To Fear

When I was little I was afraid of the dark, which often led to more work for my mom (as if with five children she didn’t have enough work already), because when it came to occasions for me to descend the steps into the dark and creepy basement, or ascend the flight of stairs to the dark second floor landing after we returned home late from an event or family party, or go to sleep with the monster lurking in the dark bedroom closet, I would inevitably have my fearless mother go before me to make sure it was safe. And, in her good natured way, she would descend to the bowels of the basement; or ascend to that darkened second floor; or go to the closet and tell that monster to scram; calling out to me: “See, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Today’s Solemnity of the Assumption focuses us in on the mystery of Our Lady’s death and immediate bodily assumption into that divine communion with the Most Holy Trinity through her Son. Yet this mystery is part and parcel of that even more fundamental mystery of her union with her Son, and through Him with His Body, in life and in death. She is our Mother because she is His Mother, and we are members of His Body and from the Cross He gave Our Lady to us; she is our elder Sister as well; she is that first and best disciple who has followed her Son in perfect fidelity during His earthly ministry and even to His Passion and Cross. Where our Divine Head has gone, our Mother and Sister has followed, and we fellow members of His Body are also meant to go.

Dear Friends, through grace the Lord lives His life again in us; His mysteries are our mysteries. Our Lord encountered setbacks, ridicule, misunderstanding, are we not to expect the same? Our Lord dealt with sleepless nights, danger, the anger of others, are we not to expect the same? Our Lord went to the Cross and died, are we not to expect crosses and trials in our lives? Do we not want to die so as to rest in the tomb with our Lord? Yet whether it be the simple fidelity of everyday life and the ordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves; or the frustration of setbacks and unexpected occurrences; or the trials and anguish of the crosses in our lives; or even death itself; never forget, our Mother has walked this path before us; she holds out her hand and says: “See, there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Get Over Yourself!

Saint Thomas and Spiritual Desolation

Today’s Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle offers us the opportunity to once again dwell on John’s post-Resurrection account of the Risen Christ’s appearance to the disciples locked away in the Upper Room following their leader’s death and seeming failure. The scene is so familiar to us: Jesus enters into the room even though the doors are locked. They react with fear, but the Risen Lord only seeks to bring peace. Thomas is the one disciple not present, and when the others tell him that they have encountered the Lord he is incredulous, thus earning him the monicker, “Doubting Thomas”.

Before even contemplating the touching interaction between Christ and Thomas, we may do well to pause for a moment at the apostle’s initial doubt. Might Thomas’s stubborn refusal to believe be seen through an Ignatian lens? Perhaps.

In his First Week rules for discernment, St. Ignatius defines for us the dynamic of spiritual desolation. In the fourth rule, he tells us: “I call desolation . . . darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to low and earthly things, disquiet from various agitations and temptations, moving to lack of confidence, without hope, without love, finding oneself totally slothful, tepid, sad and as if separated from one’s Creator and Lord” (Rule 4, as presented in The Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher).

The beloved teacher with whom the apostles have traveled countless miles, ate with, witnessed perform astounding miracles, has been brutally beaten, killed, and buried. Moreover, besides Peter, the only other apostle in John’s Gospel to verbally pledge his life for Christ (cf. Jn 11:16) has, like the rest (save John), run away and abandoned his Lord in the latter’s time of need. That this should be the cause of spiritual desolation, I don’t know what is!

The danger of desolation lies in the dynamic Ignatius points out so well when he explains that spiritual desolation brings with it that characteristic movement to “low and earthly things.” Phrased another way, we could highlight that desolation also results in that inward turning of the ego; closing in on oneself and dwelling in that artificially created world of passing, temporary fixes: food, drink, inordinate amounts of entertainment, and all those creaturely comforts, while not necessarily being wrong in and of themselves, prove fruitless in providing the lasting joy and true peace the Lord’s desires for us.

Can we see Thomas’s quick reaction of doubt a manifestation of this? In other words: “I won’t believe because I’m too busy feeling sorry for myself!” To that, Jesus returns the following week, uninhibited by the physical barriers of closed and locked doors and, on an invisible level, the closed and locked heart of Thomas, and extends His peace once again to the band of disciples, and coaxing the Doubter to open his heart to faith: Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.

In other words: “Get over yourself, Thomas.”

Before the downward spiral of desolation becomes all too active in our hearts, we may do well to recall that the Lord’s grace is readily available, even if we don’t readily feel His consoling presence with us. The response to desolation is always: “Do not be faithless, but believing.”

Saint Thomas the Apostle, pray for us.

“Follow Me”

This summer marks the tenth anniversary of my time in Tlalpan, a section of Mexico City, studying Spanish with two of my classmates as well as seminarians from the Archdiocese of St. Louis. As I look back on my life thus far, my time there remains one of the most significant. This is so not because of any natural reasons related to world travel and cultural experiences, although these realities did affect me. No, that time abroad has a fixed place in my heart for the supernatural realities that came into play. God imbued that time with His grace in a special way; and it was the presence of one man, in particular, that proved to be so consequential.

While the time in Mexico was primarily for language study, the combination of being away from home, along with ample opportunity for prayer, those weeks in Tlalpan also served as a quasi-retreat. The physical separation from home, family, and familiar surroundings, and the resulting psychological distance effected by that reality, opened up a space for God’s grace to take up residence in an area of my soul which hitherto had no vacancies. His grace was light and fire: a light because areas of my heart that dwelt in darkness were laid bare to the light of His Face; a fire because it warmed and consoled even as it destroyed. We don’t like to think of God’s grace as destructive. In our day and age we’ve grown accustomed to a “feel-good” God; therapeutic deism, as it has been described. Yet, God is not always there to make us feel good — God desires us to be good, and the latter two realities do not always coincide.

What was churned up as the Divine Sower tilled the soil of my heart and scattered the seeds of His divine life? Through the lens of today’s gospel from Matthew, one thing in particular stands out: attachment and the need to allow God to free me of those things which held me back from giving myself wholly over to Him.

The gospel passage of the Sacred Liturgy today finds us with Jesus as He crosses to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Thereupon, two men following this new and intriguing rabbi, present the Lord with their desire to be His disciples. The first, a scribe, tells Him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus’ answer, while enigmatic, betrays a certain doubt on His part of the full sincerity of the scribe: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” The second, while desirous of discipleship, asks Jesus to allow him to bury his father before joining Him. This, to be sure, is a reasonable request. Besides, is not the need to honor one’s parents even in the Law itself? For a first century Jew, and person of goodwill of our time, equally, the desire to bury one’s parents is held as a solemn duty. And yet, Jesus’ reply stuns us: “Follow me. And let the dead bury their dead.” What are we to make of this? In His characteristic style, Jesus cuts to the very heart of the matter: the call to discipleship is a radical one, cutting across all relationships and affiliations: whether they be familial, social, or political. To be Jesus’ disciple means to put Him first and to view all things in light of that most primary and fundamental of relationships.

This truth started to become a concrete reality for me during those weeks in Mexico. Although there was a priest in charge of this particular language program, once a week he brought in another priest of his religious order (who ministered elsewhere in the area) to hear confessions, should any of the seminarians desired to avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There are some people whose holiness can be felt before they even say a word, and this man exuded a sanctity that was readily apparent. He was a very kind and seemingly prayerful man, so his presence brought peace, but it also made me squirm, it made me uncomfortable. Here he was, thirty years in Mexico, a very far way from his native Ireland. While in hindsight, I imagine he must have had at least a few opportunities to travel home and visit family, at the time I wasn’t so sure. All the same, whether he had chances to go home or not, he was a man utterly given over to the Lord and the Gospel. The thought began to take hold in my heart: could I do the same? In response to that question, all I saw inside of me was over attachment; attachment to family, to friends, to my own familiar surroundings and cultural milieu, and to earthly realities that, when viewed in the light of eternity, were of no significant consequence. This holy priest had spent most of his adult life in Mexico, speaking a language that was not his own, eating food that he had not grown up with, interacting with people who were not blood-relations, and living in an environment that was quite different to his native land. Moreover, he would probably spend the remainder of his life there as well, and here I was, barely able to spend seven weeks!

In hindsight, whether the Lord was calling me to the radical abandon of a missionary is not necessarily the point. What was and continues to be at stake is the need to live that life of abandon and radical detachment which the Gospel beckons me to live — maybe not within the context of missionary work, but nonetheless, in the concrete, everyday circumstances of my vocation and state in life. This call to radical discipleship applies not only to the priest, not only to the nun or religious sister, but to all; it’s a common vocation that is lived out in the celibate state of a priest or nun, in the vows of a monk, and in the vows of holy marriage and the mutual consecration of husband and wife.

As you look at your own life and its concrete, everyday circumstances, where does the Gospel challenge you to radical discipleship? Where does the Gospel challenge you to the necessary detachment from things that inhibit your freedom to serve the Lord without reserve?

Follow me.

The Bible and The Sacraments

images.jpg

What are the sacraments? Can all the sacraments find their origin in Sacred Scripture? What is the relationship between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition? Find the answers to these questions and more with this catechetical video series produced by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

Thursday Afternoons at 2 PM and Thursday Evenings at 7 PM starting July 5. Open to adults, young adults, and teens.

Pat O’Keefe Room, St. Michael’s Parish Center.

For more information, contact Fr. Tom: frtpquinn@gmail.com.