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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Living and praying as Jesus did


Jesus lived a contemplative life, that is, He always remained aware of his heavenly Father and in union of mind and heart and soul with Him. As our Lord, Jesus offers us the same way of living, in the Holy Spirit. In order to live in a contemplative way all the time during our very active lives, it is helpful to pray regularly in a contemplative way. God uses the moments of our daily prayer in order to bring about the same order in our way of being aware of ourselves, of Him, and of life and of living our life, our will, our awareness of God and of everything, including our way of living our thoughts, feelings, body awareness and sensations, and of course our will.

For centuries many among faithful Roman Catholic Christians found they could follow the Lord's guidance by contemplating with Mary the Mysteries of the Rosary - for the most part Gospel moments, events, experiences, or encounters of Jesus - allowing one to experience and enter into the reality and presence of God in the here and now by pondering Jesus Son of God in the Gospels. As one ponders these Mysteries of the Rosary, the murmuring of the associated prayers these are spaced with silent pondering on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the mysteries allows one to keep personal thoughts and feelings gently in the background while continuing in the foreground to focus on the Presence of God.

All the while one allows the body to breathe quietly, to relax, and rest in the Lord. Praying regularly - such as twice a day - like this allows our body, mind, heart, and spirit or soul to acquire the same dispositions more and more consistently all day long and in time even into the night during our sleep without the daytime wakefulness and awareness. The process of giving all our attention to the Lord involves a form of suffering and surrender, which for any believer is a precious form of adoration.

During prayer as during all our waking moments our mind with its imagination and other rational faculties is continuously boiling with thoughts, some organized and coherent and others helter-skelter or chaotic, which can become quite stressful and tiring. As if that were not enough, our psyche also includes our heart with all its emotions below the surface which become feelings as we are aware of them, and these too are continuously rising up without our will necessarily, and when these become more intense or chaotic or unruly or troubling, then between the mind and the heart life can become almost unbearable.

So, in order for the Lord to teach us how to live as He did on Earth all our waking moments and in time even during our sleep, our "training ground or time" is when we meditate. Whether we meditate during the Holy Rosary or during what is called silent meditation, we are able to follow simple instructions such as those above and other variations on this theme, to retain our attention from the boiling thoughts and feelings and gently offer our attention to the Lord, to Him as personally present to us.

While pondering the Mysteries of the Rosary we focus while alternating back and forth now on the mystery and then on the words of the prayers, not straining the brain or heart at all, but gently yet firmly focusing our inner lens on the real presence of God at this very moment, and the next moment, and the next, in a flowing stream of attention and adoration with some discrete currents of suffering or enduring this process and of surrendering ourselves to the Lord in this flowing.

While praying in silent meditation, one focuses the attention on the Lord present to us at all times, and one focuses by sitting upright and still, being aware of the body and one's breathing but not thinking about them nor brooding over any feelings or thoughts that may arise, and murmuring the Name of the Lord, as in "Jesus Christ", or the Russian Pilgrim's phrase "Jesus Christ Son of the living God have mercy on me a sinner", or Dom John Main OSB's phrase from the end of the Book of Revelation "Maranatha", or some other such holy phrase. The body awareness and stillness, the calm breathing with the Name or word associating with the breath, and the act of surrender and trust involved are also an act of adoration which allow the Christian to focus all attention on the Holy Trinity in the Person of Jesus in a personal and living, loving connection.

Obviously, doing this, continuing to make the gentle effort to give all our attention to the Lord Jesus present with and in the Holy Trinity is something we cannot accomplish by our own efforts alone. Because it is God's will, the Holy Spirit inspires, motivates, strengthen, leads, and guides us in our efforts and allows us to slowly become like Jesus and remain ever aware and mindful of the Father's love. God is ever present now in the Person of Jesus and is ever actually touching us and sustaining us in life from within while we in a true way "touch" Jesus with our focusing attention, however it may waver and seem chaotic or troubled.

Our poor efforts though carried by the grace of the Holy Spirit may seem to us to be sporadic, chaotic, focused then dispersed, succeeded by efforts to focus again, then distracted and so on... but we don't worry about the quality of our efforts, because this too would be giving our attention to thoughts and feelings, whereas we want to give ALL of our attention to Jesus and his love, not to our own self in all its poverty and self obsession....

So, as we go along and thoughts and feelings seize our attention, we simply acknowledge what's happening as it happens, seeing our thoughts and feelings for what they are without judgement, accepting what we're thinking and feeling at the moment. We neither approve nor disapprove of our thoughts and feelings but merely acknowledge them as real, as ours, and as present in us at this moment. Then in the very act of accepting thoughts and feelings as ours and simply allowing them to be as they are, we refuse to brood over them or to react to them or to give them any more attention in any way. Instead, we take our inner awareness and capacity to focus our attention and offer it all to the Lord and try to remain focused on Him. This is what makes such silent meditation an act of worship and adoration, giving God the first place.

As we do, we allow Jesus to exercise his lordship in our life and to work on the thoughts and feelings bouncing around inside us. While we try to remain focused on Jesus, those thoughts and feelings may clamor for our attention and we simply suffer them to be there but consign them to the background. We accept to endure them increasingly from a distance as we refuse them any more attention after having briefly noticed and accepted them as ours and let them be as they are without any fuss. It is while we engage in this process of suffering and surrender and remain focused on the Lord that He can deal with our thoughts and feelings and bring order, peace, and healing to us moment by moment. This entire process is a very personal and intimate form of adoration which is very pleasing to the Lord and surrenders to Him all lordship and indeed our very self.

It is very important to understand that there is infinite value through the work of the Holy Spirit in our accepting to suffer all this unwanted activity and inner turmoil . In this suffering the Holy Spirit gives us intimate communion with Jesus in his saving Passion. In our ongoing act of will - acting as gently with ourselves as we can - to surrender our will and attention to the Lord Jesus and in Him to the Holy Trinity, what is happening is that we are surrendering our will to the Father's will as Jesus did Himself.

SUFFERING our condition and offering it together with our ongoing SURRENDER of will with Jesus to the Father in the Holy Spirit, this is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, to carry our cross, though the cross takes many forms in the course of our life of faith and hope in the love of God. It is in the course of our suffering and surrender in the Holy Spirit that the same Spirit of God can deal with our thoughts and feelings and slowly put his order, justice, and healing into them, give us rest in Jesus and strengthen our bonds of unity with the whole Body of Christ in the peace of the Holy Spirit and the love of the Father.

We can remain interiorly focused on the Lord Jesus by letting our body keep us aware of the present here and now (sitting still and quiet and being conscious of our joined hands and our breath for example) and repeating a prayer or holy phrase such as indicated above: "O my Jesus I trust in You!" or "God please help me." or "Jesus Christ Son of the living God have mercy on me a sinner." Perhaps the most powerful word is simply repeating the Name of Jesus as in "Jesus Christ"... sounding or "hearing" inside us on our out breath "Jesus" and then on our in breath "Christ".

This particular form of silent meditation is taught by Fr. Franz Jalics in his book "Contemplative Retreat" which is available at the Ignatian Center in Montreal or online at a reasonable price. His instructions are quite practical spread out over 10 days for those taking a closed retreat and over 20 weeks for those taking a retreat in the course of daily life, or simply as a reading companion for those taking it slowly by themselves. In all three of these ways of learning and practicing this way, it is good for one to meet regularly with a priest to discuss how it's going and obtain clarity with any difficulties or confusion.

In time dear friend in the Lord Jesus, as you try this and find that contemplating this way is helpful and you'd like to learn more about how to do this, you could obtain the book describing this way of being and of living our faith to connect with God. As I just described it was written to allow people to enter into a practical learning process either during a full time 10 day retreat, or on a retreat in daily life which extends a few hours a week over 20 weeks, or simply as a book to read slowly and to try to practice on your own time and according to your own rhythm.

In attempting any of these three methods, it is good to seek accompaniment and direction from a competent and well formed guide, prayer companion, or spiritual director. Such a helper must be committed to recognizing and acknowledging that the Holy Spirit is the only true Director of Souls, and that their role is only to help the one seeking guidance to be attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit orienting them from within. Regularly Christians as well as all people of good will need help to distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit from other voices that would mislead us away from God.

There is the voice of the ways of the world which is under the power of the "prince of this world, the devil". We are also misled by the inclinations of our flesh obsessed as it is with its own will, its own ways, and its own satisfactions. Finally, there is the tempter, Lucifer or Satan and his host of rebellious angels turned into demons, who would try to lead us astray and away from Jesus who alone is the way, the truth, and the life.

Peace and all blessings from God to you as you journey in faith and try to follow Jesus in living a contemplative life in both prayer and action.

Monday, June 22, 2015

At a wedding a priest sings a secular song with adapted lyrics

A good friend recently sent me a YouTube link showing a priest singing adapted lyrics to the tune of "Hallelujah"... written I believe originally by Leonard Cohen. I too have enjoyed listening to this tune until I could discern the lyrics, which with all due respect to Mr. Cohen I did not find necessarily inspirational....

As much as I find the music hauntingly beautiful, still, I regret to say that this performance by a priest from the Altar makes my skin crawl.... I understand that our culture has gone over the top in blissfully identifying with what we could all "performance mode"... in our fast changing pleasure driven culture even at the high points and meaningful moments of life everyone wants to perform.

However, a priest in chasuble in the sanctuary behind an altar stands not in his own name nor according to his own sentiments, however noble they may be and however much he may want to demonstrate caring for the engaged couple about to be or just previously joined in holy Matrimony, but that priests stands there first and foremost in the Person of Jesus Christ.

This is not a performance but a real time event that has its counterpart in eternity before the throne of God the Father... or however we can understand the eternal and glorious Presence of the Holy Trinity surrounded by myriads of angels and saints.... You've doubtless heard the expression "a Marriage made in Heaven"? Well that's what the Sacrament of Marriage, or Holy Matrimony, is - a couple joined simultaneously on Earth and in Heaven before God.

The chasuble is the garment in which the priest most solemnly represents Jesus at the Last Supper, with the Risen Lord bringing us now present to that moment and experience of his self offering at the Last Supper and and simultaneously to the moment of his self offering on the Cross on Calvary. Because Jesus is risen from the dead He is not a past historical figure but the Living One present at this very moment both on Earth and in Heaven and everywhere simultaneously in the universe and beyond it....

Jesus is both fully human, a man, and the Son of God; so that his offering of Himself at the Last Supper and on the Cross is a perfect offering of divine love, and as such, it is a self offering that is ongoing, not yet finished, until the very last human being will have lived and died and the last day has arrived and the Lord will come in final triumph of divine love over evil.

Even if the Marriage Rite were celebrated without Eucharist and so not in a chasuble for the priest but in alb and stole or alb and cope, this would still not be an appropriate time for a priest to perform. It is dignified, meaningful, and appropriate for other people to play music and sing to accompany in a meaningful way parts of the Liturgy, again with the entire focus of both lyrics and music on the Lord Jesus, the Word being spoken by God, and the High Priest who joins the engaged couple in the Sacrament of Marriage. A church sanctuary built around an Altar, which represents Christ the Rock upon whom we are lifted up to offer our lives also with Him to the Father; it may resemble a stage but it is never a stage for performance only.

If my comments offend anyone's sensibilities, I am sorry for that, but the truth must be told. Even if the entire world decided to do whatever "feels right" with the sacred Mysteries of our faith, I hope and pray the Lord will give me the strength to defend these Mysteries in accord with God's will as expressly manifested in our tradition and the Church's teachings, to my dying breath.