Breathe in Me O Holy Spirit…

Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/deed.en)], via Wikimedia CommonsSometimes I get caught up in trying to find the “perfect” words when I pray, which consequently usually leads to me not praying.  At other times I find that memorized prayers feel dry, that they are not my own words.  But one prayer that has seemed to remain above the fray for me is St. Augustine’s prayer to the Holy Spirit.  May the Holy Spirit fill our hearts today and always!  Enjoy:

Breathe in me O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy,

Act in me O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy,

Draw my heart O Holy Spirit,
that I love but what is holy,

Strengthen me O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy,

Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy.

Amen.

–  St. Augustine

Do you Hear Something?

By Berthold Werner (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The other night I was at a friend’s house talking with the guys in the dining room waiting for dessert to finish baking. In the background, there was a very faint chirping noise that went away as suddenly as it sounded. Our host stood up and went to the kitchen to remove the cookies from the oven while we marveled at how he could even hear the timer. Someone commented, “if he doesn’t hear this timer, the next one is much louder” while pointing at the smoke detector. We all had a good laugh at that and proceeded to enjoy dessert!

The readings this coming Sunday, as well as those for last Sunday, have as their theme “God is calling.”   Last week we saw Samuel being called by the Lord while he slept and we heard the story of Jesus calling the first disciples to follow him. This week, we have Jonah being called to go to Nineveh and Jesus inviting Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John to follow Him as “fishers of men.” These inspirational stories highlight an incredibly important fact—God calls ordinary people to follow Him; people like you and me! A look at the lives of the saints confirms this reality—God calls ordinary men and women. It is in the answering of God’s calling that we participate in the extraordinary. After all, if Peter doesn’t follow after Jesus he remains Simon, a simple fisherman unknown to anyone outside of his small sea-side hometown. Instead, he answers “Yes,” follows Christ thus becoming Peter, a “fisher of men” and the first Pope.

“God calls ordinary men and women. It is in the answering of God’s calling that we participate in the extraordinary”

The Lord calls each of us to follow Him. Unfortunately, for many of us we completely miss it altogether! Maybe it’s because we expect to find God in a burning bush or some other awe-inspiring supernatural experience. Maybe it’s because our lives are so full of distraction and noise. Or perhaps it’s because we don’t know what to listen for. Like me and my friends sitting in the dining room awaiting cookies, if we are expecting to hear God calling like a loud buzzer we might miss the small, quiet sound of Him speaking to our hearts (see the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:1-13).

So how do we make sure we hear God speaking?
It’s one thing to say, “yeah, I’d like to have God speak to me” but quite another to actually prepare to hear Him. We need to move beyond the theoretical and into the practical. Here are some basic steps:

Pray and ask the Lord to speak:
We need to affirm that it is our desire to hear God speaking to our hearts and ask that He give us the “ears to hear” what He is speaking. In this prayer, we surrender our own desires and acclaim that we want to know and do His will.

Expect that God will speak:
If we go throughout our day without the expectation that God hears and answers our prayer, that He does indeed call out to us, we aren’t going to be looking for His love notes to us. He wants to speak to us, let’s pray with and live with great expectations.

Build in moments of silence:
Ever try to have a conversation with someone who never stops to listen? It is very frustrating! Sometimes we let the noise crowd out the silence we need to listen for His voice.

Take a moment to reflect:
At the end of the day, take time to reflect and ask ourselves “how has the Lord been speaking to me today? How did I respond—did I follow Him or ignore Him?” This daily Examen, as St. Ignatius called it, is essential to the spiritual life! Think of it like this, during an important conversation we make sure that we’ve understood what the other is saying, that we are on the same page, so to speak. Reflecting on our day and asking these types of questions helps us to make sure that we understand what God has been saying to us throughout the daily dialogue.

Pray for forgiveness and thanksgiving:
As we become aware of the times we chose to ignore God, let’s pray seeking forgiveness. For the times that we did respond to God’s voice, offer a prayer of thanksgiving.  Let us seek grace to respond more fully the next day.

The more we practice this process, the more sensitive we will become to hearing God’s call in our lives. And that is how we grow in holiness. Make no mistake, the Lord is calling each one of us—may we respond throughout our ordinary days in extraordinary grace-filled ways!

Distraction and the Greeting Line

The Last Supper, Museu de Évora

A while back, as I was returning to my seat in the pew after receiving Communion, I suddenly became aware that I couldn’t recall standing up, walking forward in line nor the moment I received Him in this most Holy Sacrament—I was too distracted. What was worse is that I couldn’t even recall what I was thinking about during those moments! I had traded in my attention and gratitude to our Lord and His unbelievable gift for something not even worth remembering a few moments later. I felt horrible! I prayed that God would forgive my distractedness and have since received Him more mindfully at Mass.

“How many times have I treated you as a dead object?” — Vinny Flynn

Maybe you can relate to my experience. Each week, we stand, go forward and receive the very Lord of creation, the Savior of the world, and we do it all the while thinking about what time the football game starts, what we will have for lunch, or wondering why so and so didn’t shake my hand at the offering of peace. We are distracted. And if we don’t realize what is actually happening, we certainly cannot have the appropriate response!

Perhaps a good way to envision going to Communion is to think of a greeting line. As we approach the host of the banquet, we are thinking of what we will say to him, deciding what we will share of ourselves. When the moment arrives, there is joy at being recognized—of being known and welcomed. The host is so grateful for us celebrating with him, and likewise we are so grateful for having been invited. There is a mingling of what we share and likewise, what is shared with us. Now imagine that this banquet was for all those that the host has saved from death; that he has offered a chance at new life. How focused would we be on the moment we get to greet the host? And yet, that is exactly what happens each Mass. Even more than that, this Host not only shares Himself with us, he desires to become one with us! Wow!

7 Secrets of the EucharistThere are many great books written about the Eucharist. One of them seems applicable to our tendency towards distraction. It is entitled 7 Secrets of the Eucharist, by Vinny Flynn. The first of these secrets is that the Eucharist is alive. Flynn laments, “how many times have I treated you as a dead object?” As Catholics we know that the bread and wine truly become Jesus’ Body and Blood. But even to acknowledge this reality is not enough. Flynn asserts, “The Host we receive is not a thing! It’s not a wafer! It’s not bread! It’s a person—and He’s alive!” Eucharist is truly His Body and Blood, but not some inanimate body—He is alive! The more we become aware of this reality, the more we can have the appropriate response—thankfulness (the word Eucharist means thanksgiving). As we go forward this Sunday, and every Mass afterwards, may we be truly excited to greet the host of the banquet, to receive the Host that has truly become the Living God!

King or Servant

Jesus kingship is displayed in serving his disciples by washing their feet

Washing of Feet, by Giotto Scrovegni (1267-1337)

As we enter into Holy Week, we see Christ entering Jerusalem with the people saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David…hosanna in the highest.”  They put branches on the ground and are expectant of what he will do.  The memory of the raising of Lazarus—the Gospel we heard last weekend—is still fresh in their mind and many have come to see Him as the long-awaited Messiah.  By the end of the week, however, many people will be shouting on Good Friday, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  For them, Jesus had not fulfilled their expectations of what the Messiah would be.  He ate dinner with sinners, cured on the Sabbath and dared to decry the hypocrisy exhibited by the chief priests and scribes.  It is a tragic moment—the most tragic moment of all time—when we condemn our God to death.  It is a most stark contrast to the reception Jesus receives on Palm Sunday.

The crucifixion was brutal, there is no doubt about that, but if all we see is the pain and suffering we are missing the point.  This is the same Jesus that enters as the Son of David—in other words, as a king, the king—to the greetings of “hosanna!”  To see Good Friday as simply tragic is to miss the reality that Jesus longs for us to see.  It is the reality He strove to make crystal clear to His apostles.  On Holy Thursday, Jesus not only links the Old Testament covenant of Passover with the new covenant of the Eucharist by His own blood, He also links His kingship with His Passion.  To be king is to be servant of all.

“So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.  He took a towel and tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.” (John 13:2-5)

What was it that Jesus does when He is “fully aware” that His Father has put “everything into his power”?  He serves.  Wow…

To be king is to be a servant

Jesus’ kingship is one of the Suffering Servant

If I had all the power in the world, if I were king, would I choose to wash my friends’ feet or stretch out my hands and be nailed to a cross?  Would you?  Make no mistake; Jesus does not want to die in His humanity.  He prays that the “cup pass from me,” but He submits Himself to the will of the Father and was obedient even until death.  To be a king is to be a servant, and to be a servant is to be a king.  As we go throughout Holy Week and we see the many responses to Jesus, from “Hosanna in the highest” to “Crucify him” let us realize that they are the flip side of the same coin.  Jesus’ kingly glory is His suffering; Jesus kingship is made present in His servant hood.

Lord, teach us to enter into service with Your Son, so as to enter into His glory.  Thank You for Your Passion and Your resurrection.  Amen.

Stations of the Cross: Our Part in the Story

The Stations of the Cross: Veronica's Veil by Domenico Fetti

Veronica’s Veil by Domenico Fetti (1618 or 1622)

On Friday evenings we gather for the Stations of the Cross.  This traditional meditative prayer is designed to help us see what the Way of the Cross would have been like for Jesus.  In a word, it was brutal.  But Lent, and the way of the cross, is so much more than that:  it is also pure love.  To grapple with this reality,We need to see ourselves in the story.  Let us reflect on the many conflicting feelings, the stark contrasts between a love beyond understanding and such burning hatred.  Let’s see ourselves as characters in the events of that day, for Jesus’ Passion is our story, too:

Perhaps we are like the Roman Centurion, whose duty it is to enforce the laws of Caesar that Pontius Pilate, the governor, puts forth.  Maybe like him we are filled with awe at Jesus not pleading for his life but, rather, laying it down—something we would never consider doing ourselves.  Maybe we are more like many of the indifferent people who Jesus passed by on His way to Golgotha.  Like them, maybe we see Jesus as a nice enough man who seemed to care about others but who didn’t know enough to do what the Pharisees and Chief Priests asked of Him.  Living as God asks us seems too risky.

Or perhaps we are more like John, the Beloved Disciple, who saw the tears in Mary’s eyes as she beheld her Son and had her heart pierced by the sword.  Maybe we are filled with grief at the capacity of the human heart to cause and bear pain as we stand with others in their suffering.  Possibly we are more like Simon of Cyrene who comes along for the journey grudgingly at first, slowly coming to realize the incredible grace of being asked to help our suffering Lord in all we meet.  Perhaps we are like the angry thief, lashing out at Jesus, our words filled with anger at why He won’t take away our pains and sufferings.  Maybe we are like the repentant thief, recognizing our sinfulness and begging for His mercy.  We might be like the Roman soldier whose job it was to hammer the nails; like him, we might feel we have no choice but to comply with evil or we might as easily suffer the same fate.  Possibly we are like the High Priest who feels the weight of trying to protect everyone from false prophets and in our fear we are blinded to the Truth.  Maybe we are like the many other persons there that day.

We are likely a composite of the characters in the story, filled with emotions and motivations that are often at odds.  As we continue our journey through Lent, let us take time to see how we fit into the story, for it is THE story.  It is one that we all participate in, whether we are conscious of it or not.  Christ offers us His forgiveness and love this Lent, how are we responding?

Blessings on your Lent!