St. Irenaeus, a bishop and early Church Father, wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I love this quote. In one sentence he describes what it means to be holy. To be holy means being fully alive; to be holy means being fully the persons God created us to be. To be fully alive is not equivalent to the modern notion of “living life to its fullest.” When many people talk about living life to its fullest, what they really mean is that we should indulge in as many pleasures as possible, pamper ourselves, and just be comfortable. Not that there’s anything wrong with pampering ourselves once in a while, but that’s not exactly what St. Irenaues meant.
In the past two days I’ve been reminded of both the gift and fragility of life. Yesterday, I received an email from a friend asking for prayers because her daughter suffered a miscarriage. What a tremendously painful experience a miscarriage is for parents and the whole family. This morning, I administered the sacrament of the sick to my dad. He’s having surgery on Monday. Granted, it’s minor surgery, but any time your being put under anesthesia it involves risk and certainly can be frightening. This afternoon, I received a voicemail from a friend asking me to pray for a man who was rushed to the hospital when a brain aneurism burst. I know this man. He’s married and the father of two young adult sons. This evening, I received an email from a friend asking me if I would be able to go to the hospital to anoint her mom who was about to undergo emergency surgery. Life is a gift. Life is fragile.
Have You Noticed? Have you noticed the sunrise? Have you noticed the sunset? Have you noticed the clouds as they move in the sky? Have you noticed the moon and the stars in the night? Have you noticed the gentle breeze on your face?
One evening last week, I decided to take a walk with the Lord. The sky was moonlight and an autumn chill was in the air. So after dinner I put a sweater on and walked meditatively around the seminary property. I typically pray the examen in the late afternoon while sipping a fresh cup of hot coffee; but this day was different. I felt drawn to walk outside and talk with the Lord. I contemplated Jesus walking by my side, His right arm around my shoulders, listening attentively to me sharing my day with Him. Truthfully, it’s the type of prayer that several years ago I may have been tempted to call corny. Have you ever noticed that some of the things you used to think were corny are actually things that you now do?
If you’ve read my previous posts, you may have guessed that one of my favorite saints is Ignatius of Loyola, the great founder of the Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuits). Ignatius was born in Spain in 1491. He was a soldier in the Spanish army before he experienced a profound conversion to Christ at the age of 30. During a battle against the French at Pamplona, Ignatius’s leg was broken by a cannonball, an injury that left him with a limp for the rest of his life. As he recuperated in his bed at home, he began to read the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints. As he read, he noticed something happening in his heart: he felt drawn to Christ and he desired to imitate the saints about whom he was reading. This time of recuperation was a defining moment in his life, and from that point on he devoted his life to Christ and to spreading the fire of God’s love to all people he encountered. One of the great methods of prayer that Ignatius proposed for spiritual growth was the daily examen. In fact, still today, priests in the Society of Jesus are asked to set aside fifteen minutes twice a day in order to pray the examen.
Woody Allen once said something to the effect that eighty percent of success in life is simply about showing up. We can say something similar about prayer. If we desire a fruitful prayer life, then we must show up for it everyday. What do I mean? In my previous posts I wrote about the Examen Prayer, a time set aside to reflect on God’s love and our response to it in our daily lives. But how does one begin to pray the Examen? How does one begin to pray at all? The first step to prayer is simply showing up and acknowledging God’s loving presence. St. Ignatius called this first step the time of “transition.” Once again, I direct you to Fr. Gallagher’s excellent book that I referenced in my last post.
Emotions are like the tide: they change every day. We must be careful then not to base our spiritual lives on our emotions. We must also take care not to base our decisions upon our feelings. Every day we can experience both positive and negative emotions, and we can allow both types of emotions to affect our relationship with the Lord. For example, if we are peaceful during the day, we can allow it to lead us more deeply into the Lord’s presence and experience spiritual consolation; however, if we are angry we may choose to distance ourselves from Him thus choosing spiritual desolation. The challenge for us is to live on a deeper spiritual level than our emotions. The good news is that there is a prayerful way to get to that level and to be more discerning about how our emotions affect our spiritual life.
“Stop this train. I want to get off and go home again. I can’t take the speed it’s moving in. I know I can’t; but honestly won’t someone stop this train.” -John Mayer We often miss the gift of life because we live at a speed that is just too fast. Our American way of life is just too fast. Few of us are exempt from the busy, fast-paced life—priests included. The demands of job and family life can be overwhelming for the laity; the demands of ministry can be overwhelming for priests and religious. But so many of us believe the lie that if we’re not busy, then we’re not effective; and as we get caught in the maelstrom of our busyness, we experience emotional and spiritual pain. I’ve reflected on this reality of the busy, fast-paced life for a while and I’ve come to see that it’s not so much about being too busy that causes our pain; it’s really about not being rooted.