Monday, November 23, 2009

Do You Trust that I Will Help You?

I was helping my second-grade daughter with her homework a couple of weeks ago. I would explain to her what she needed to do, and then walk away so she could see if she could get it done on her own. If she could not do it on her own, then she could come get me. She became increasingly frustrated with her own ability to complete her homework, and she began crying and throwing a bit of a tantrum. I tried to explain to her what to do again, and that I would help, but this repetition did not seem to be sinking in. In my frustration, I said to her, "Do you trust that I will help you?" She answered "Yes" through her tears.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that the scenario she and I had been acting out was really no different than what I far too often act out with God. I become frustrated at my own efforts to do certain things on my own, or I become anxious about the uncertainty of the future. I don't turn to God and place my confidence in Him. And in my voice to my daughter, I could hear what God is constantly telling me if only I would listen: "Do you trust that I will help you?" If I am truly honest with myself, my answer to that question is often "No." And part of my prayer life needs to be changing that "No" to a "Yes." I think of Mary and her "Fiat," her "Yes." But she did not give that assent only one time. Whether it was the flight to Egypt, or when Jesus went missing for three days as a boy, or most especially during Jesus' passion, Mary was telling God, "Yes, I trust that You will help me."

Lord, please grant me the grace to trust that You will help me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Imitation of Christ

I'm just about finished reading St. Therese's The Story of a Soul. She talks about how valuable Thomas a Kempis's The Imitation of Christ is for her spiritual development. I have not read it, but it sounds like I need to do so.

I was thinking about the process of imitation. Great painters become great by copying the work of other great painters. Musicians learn songs from the recordings of their heroes. Imitation is one of the ways that we become better at something. It should be clear that imitating Christ is something that we ought to do to become more Christ-like.

I received a valuable lesson from my son on this point. He is at a stage where he often copies what I do. When we get dressed for mass, he will often try to wear either the same colors or the same kind of clothing that I do. The other day he asked me how I take a shower because he wanted to wash up the same way that I do. There are times when he wants to be so close to me that he is physically right against me.

I realize that I need to be like this with Jesus. I need to be like Him. To be like Him, I need to know the Gospels in particular, and the Bible in general, very well. Then I need to live those words. I need to long to be as physically close to Him as possible. The Eucharist is the best way for us to physically be close to Him. Confession is the best way for us to move closer to Him spiritually. Christ shows us the way. He is the Way. All we need to do is follow Him.

Thanks to my son for teaching me the lessons I should already have learned by now.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Let My Life Be Consumed

While on a silent Ignatian retreat a few weeks ago, I read parts of Encounters with Silence by Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J. In the chapter on vocation, he wrote this about his priestly vocation:

O God of my vocation, let my life be consumed as the Sacred Host, so that my brothers and I may live in You, and You in us, for all eternity" (p. 77).

Some important things come to mind in reading this. First, God is the God of our vocation, whether that be priestly, religious, or lay. Our vocation is a call from Him to become most fully ourselves in Him. Second, we should be consumed by that call. Jesus was consumed by His love for the Father and for us in His crucifixion. There is a suffering, sacrificial aspect to that consumption. However, there is also a redemptive, life-giving aspect to that consumption as well. The consumption of food gives us natural nourishment and life, and the consumption of the Sacred Host gives us supernatural nourishment and life. Finally, whatever vocation we have, that vocation is strengthened by frequent receipt and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Feast of All Saints

Today is the Feast of All Saints. Perhaps I have been watching too many sporting events recently, but today I was thinking about how Holy Days of Obligation are a sort of half-time pep talk to a flagging Church Militant which is being challenged to live up to the storied franchise of the Church Triumphant. This seems especially true of the Feast of All Saints.

The Feast of All Saints is a day that often we don't really "get" in the pews. We may go through the motions, but it doesn't really move us much. I think the reason for that is because those of us in the pews focus entirely on honoring the saints. That's important, to be sure. As I was on retreat last weekend, I reflected on some of my favorite saints: St. Peter, St. Augustine, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Ignatius of Loyola. They have much to teach me, and I need their prayers.

However, the Feast of All Saints is about remembering the saints we don't know, who aren't canonized, who don't have a feast day. The person who lived next door to us growing up who is now with God. The grandmother who has gone on to eternal life. The child who died of cancer and is now praying for his parents who are grieving still. We are reminded of the "universal call to holiness," a call described in Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium. We are all called to be saints. If we don't become saints, we will spend eternity separated from God. There is no permanent half-way house (Purgatory is a temporary half-way house). We are called to choose life or death (Deuteronomy 30:19), and saints are people who have chosen life. We often think of sainthood as something unattainable for us. The secret is this: sainthood is unattainable by us but is not unattainable for us. If we cooperate with God's grace, we can become saints. St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower who described for us "the little way" in her book, The Story of a Soul (translated by John Beevers), made a choice to become a saint: "You know, Mother, that I have always wanted to become a saint" (Chapter, 9, p. 113).

So how do we become saints? There are as many ways to become a saint as there are individuals. Read the lives of the saints. Each had a different road to take to reach heaven. But some patterns emerge.

Trust in God - Saints trust that God will keep his promises. They have faith in God's word.

Prayer - Saints know they must be in relationship with God. They must talk to God. They must listen to God. They must read God's word. Heaven is about fulfilling one's relationship with God, so we must begin that relationship here on earth.

Vocation - Sainthood is possible through all vocations: ordained life, consecrated life, marriage, and the single life. However, sainthood is not possible if we reject the vocation to which God calls us and willfully choose a different vocation. Think of Jonah. We must go where God calls us, which is to go where we will ultimately encounter him most fully.

Sacraments - Saints live sacramental lives. They attend mass frequently; they receive Jesus in the Eucharist frequently; they go to confession frequently.

Love in Action - Saints love God so much that their love spills over to others. They don't merely say they love people, but they express that love in actions. They are doers of Jesus' words (Matthew 7: 24-27).

That's my list. One could slice and dice it different ways, but you get the idea. It's like losing weight. We all know how to do it. The problem is we don't want to do what it takes.