What is it then to be a priest? (part 2)
The calling to the priesthood is a calling to spiritual Fatherhood through the love of the Heart of Jesus in the Body of the Church. As a Father the priest must follow the command of the Lord to "feed my sheep". When the Lord asked Peter three times, "Do you love me?", and Peter said "yes", the condition of that love was "feed my sheep". The priest follows the Good Shepherd by service and sacrifice. He is not himself because he is the servant and minister of Christ. Any by his Fatherhood he is the spouse of the Church. And so far as he does not understand that he is like the hired man who has no concern for the sheep. He just gives himself (stones) when his children ask for the True Bread (Christ).
But the priest who understands the depth and mystery of his calling has no fear in speaking the Truth in love. He is prepared to risk everything because God has given him everything.
In himself he is nothing so that in Christ he may be everything.
In all his lifes journey, despite all difficulties, he feels the hand of God upon him, waiting patiently at his side. In the secret harbour of the Sacred Heart of the Lord he finds rest and peace. Safe from error and the assaults of the Evil One, he is renewed and refreshed.
We are all dependant upon one another in some way. The meaning of all life only makes sense in relation to others. A child is utterly dependant on it's mother for food. Food that makes life grow. As adults, in a spiritual sense, we are utterly dependant upon our Creator and Redeemer, who gives us life, both physically and spiritually. We cannot understand the nature of His giving unless we make space within ourselves for Him to enter. A quiet recollected mind receives that Divine giving. This giving is a movement from God who gives, to us who receive or put it another way, a movement from contemplation to action . St Thomas Aquinas states that the highest spiritual perfection consists in this movement. This is shown, for example in the Gospel account of Mary and Martha. Martha's activity was not wrong, rather Our Lord says that we must begin from a state of receptivity to purposeful activity.
The essence of all worship begins in this way. Above all, in the Holy Mass we are fed with that which is given, the Bread of Life, that has come into the world. We do not take to ourselves that which we can barely understand but we receive it in child-like trust.
The Mass is always a communal act, it is the action of Christ Himself as head of the body, that is mediated through the hands of the Priest. The prolongation in time of the incarnation. Therefore the attention of the Priest and people does not lie in each other but upon the altar.
What is it, to be a priest?
This is an important question. We might say that a faithful Catholic priest allows all the little children to come to Christ (are we not all children?), and strives to enable everyone he meets to live and die in the state of sanctifying grace. A priest who tries to consider everyone whom God's Providence puts into his life to be his own potential companion in the way of the Vita Aeterna - in Beatitude - if he and they also both faithfully persevere unto the end, in Grace. For he knows that the gift of final perseverance is itself a great gift. That gift of God is never to be presumed upon. Until the moment of our death, we retain the permanent possibility of voluntarily defection from Divine Grace and from God Himself: in what Dante called "the Great Refusal". Such is the terrible gift of our human freedom, for we can only love God freely. It cannot be forced.
He must be a witness. A man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences. This view is rooted in the incarnation and the incarnation's continuation in the Seven Sacraments of Christ; especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where the Eternal Himself intersects with Time, where the Sacred Mystery and Concrete Intimacy are graciously joined. Such is the Sacred action of the Mass. The Universal is present in the Particular. It is also present to our senses, especially in the Mass's sacramental visibility which elevates and draws us into our contemplation of God, with love. That is to say, from the visible to the invisible beauty, the heart with love is raised in rapt attention to God.
The humble Cure of Ars does not, in his humility, realise that his own "spiritual childhood" would awaken the souls of his little village to a greater life of grace. But the cost is at times heavy. Faced with apathy, boredom and a lukewarm response to his pastoral care, he identifies with Our Lord's mental and moral agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is a man for others, a father and shepherd of his flock whose joys and sorrows he shares. Aware of his deflects and sins, he is an instrument by virtue of God's calling to teach, govern and sanctify his people, continuing in time the same work of Jesus Christ . Whatever his personality and human skills may be, he knows that they are dependent on Divine Grace.
We have to do all we can to preserve the inner silence that brings peace to our souls. If we really want to follow the Lord we will thirst for the water that Jesus wants to give us. Knowing and loving God is something that demands time and attention. Whatever is going on outwardly in our life, He wishes to pour into us the fullness of His peace. When we are still and at peace there comes the bliss of something that cannot be put into words. Life for many is stressful and busy. In that case, each evening before going to sleep, examine your conscience and see how much you can change by God's grace. Do not put things off , for the cycle of entanglements will continue. A calm and reflective self-examination will help us deal with attachments to the world, the flesh and the devil. When you are eating, eat. When you are going for a walk, walk. Don't say "I must be doing something else". What is important is not so much what we are doing but whether we give our calm and unhurried attention to it. For the eternity of God in this life is Now, in the present moment. That is all we have, For all is His gift.
We can find God in everything. We do not have to try for He simply IS. His presence fills the whole universe and pervades every creature. Our concern should not be to reach some exalted spiritual state but to begin where we are. To see that he gives Himself to us in everything even though we may not always be aware of His presence. But to know the truth of the fact. If we know deep down, this knowing will bring with it a quality of listening. A listening beyond the ordinary. Listening that brings about, through the light of the Holy Spirit , a compassionate awareness. Everything we experience in life, however onerous or unappealing, is a message of God's will. Sometimes that can be hard to see or accept. On closer analysis it is pride and self will that stops us letting go and trusting with a child-like simplicity, His holy will. Just as Jesus came to do the will of His Father, through His self-sacrifice and suffering, He also teaches us to say "Thy Will be done". We must wait in peace and without anxiety, simply fixing our gaze on Him and our own nothingness. Happy is the person who knows he is nothing. This seems to go against everything we feel. But from that seeming nothingness the mysterious gift of the Holy Spirit makes all things new.
We exist so often on the surface of things, satisfied with so little. The brain is forever active, making sense of what we experience. In a sense it is sorting out information. But the imagination is a different thing. That is why we must try gently to bring it into a state of control. A quiet and compassionate mind brings with it simplicity and clarity to see beyond the surface. To live this way gives the soul the space to receive the warmth and flame of the Holy Spirit. Distractions in prayer do not mean that we not praying deeply. Like a good parent who gives a child a toy, we give the mind something to occupy it when it is restless. Try saying a short prayer like the Our Father or Hail Mary as slowly as you can, and this will bring you again into calmer waters. The Holy Spirit prays in us, and whether it is by word or in silence, it is the same Spirit praying in us. He is really touching different strings of the same instrument. And do not be discouraged that you do not feel anything at the time, but whether afterwards you feel better and more determined to serve God. We are on the same journey together. It is a great adventure, to be led by the hand of the Lord.
To know our need for God is to allow Him to embrace us. Just as in the parable of the prodigal son. He awaits for us to come of our own free will. His love wishes us to choose the good. At every moment, there is a choice to make. To go away, to stay where we are or to move forward. True repentance is moving forward to embrace Him. Only then can we know the mercy and forgiveness of God that sets us free from the slavery of sin. We must gather together all our energy to be able to come back to our true home in Christ. Where there is love, there is mercy and compassion This is not a theory, but a fact. To learn to be quiet, to give the mind a rest is essential for spiritual vitality. To be simple, clear and inwardly quiet, is to know the flame, the warmth of His love.
A mind that is disordered and confused is a mind that seeks security in a far off country outside the embrace of our loving Lord. Be clear then about what you want to do in your life. If you are not, wait upon Him in childlike trust and He will guide you.
Prayer is quite simple really. I think it is us who make it complicated. That is why many people, good people, do not know how to pray and soon give up. We must try to set aside the idea that it is something we do separate from everything else. Then the insight into the fact that God sees our whole life in an instant, enables us to see that we are always in the presence of Him who sustains us, despite our sins and weaknesses.
It is like leaving a door open, if you leave the door open the breeze of the evening comes in. You cannot invite it: you cannot prepare for it; you cannot say, "I must, I must not". Just leave the door open. This means a very simple act, an act which is not of the will, which is not of pleasure, which is not projected by the tricks of thought, but of love. A connection beyond the limitations of self. Then through this open door comes something that cannot be measured in time. If we can begin to see that, the process of transformation can begin.
YOUR FATHER WILL REWARD YOU
The silence we speak of is not emptiness. Thanks to it, we find God in the depths of the heart; the God who is closer to me than I am to myself. The silence is a fullness. It is not the silence of those who wish to escape from life and seek self-satisfaction.
"Your Father will reward you" with the conviction that is expressed in Psalm 139 "You know all there is about me...........All my ways lie open to you".
When I accept the fact that God lives in me "in secret", then what Christ said comes to pass: "Your Father will reward you". Can we give this phrase its full force?
Can we really believe it? It is true that the Spirit is God's "first fruit to those who believe". The gift of God, or His response to the appeal of our heart, is the Holy Spirit.
In prayer, as in action, only silence allows us to find God and not go astray. Only the person who is prepared to experience his personal poverty and emptiness can be filled with the fullness of God.
It all comes back to educating the heart to silence. This is the work of a lifetime, never fully achieved. Anyone who takes up this task risks discovering with amazement that after years of spiritual exercises, he has never prayed in the truth of his heart.
He has stayed on the surface of his being, satisfied with a selfish, sentimental, intellectual form of prayer which gives only occasional peace. Let him consent to be himself, nothing but himself, before God. This is the first stage of a prayer that comes from the heart.
Then we shall discover that this prayer is a simple thing. We ask the Lord to lead us into this simplicity. On the day we shall begin to pray as we should.
CLOSE THE DOOR
We can see now where the difficulty lies in prayer. It is not in lack of time or physical conditions. It lies in this: we rarely descend to the bottom of our heart and remain there. In other words, we are seldom ourselves.
We pray badly because we are not ourselves, and we are not ourselves because we do not know how to be silent. The condition for all prayer, as for the act of freedom that it demands is SILENCE. We need to rediscover this fundamental truth.
The silence we speak of is not only the silence of the lips or body. We need to free ourselves from the interior "motives" that continue to play themselves in our interior. We need to struggle for silence of the heart.
Conquest of the interior powers, refusal of distractions, these are two aspects of natural asceticism which make us accept the silence necessary for being oneself at prayer.
While the heart remains sluggish - now too light, now too heavy - resemble the broken cisterns of which Jeremiah spoke, letting water escape on all sides. In this condition.
We cannot live in peaceful, continuous prayer. Lacking silence, prayer is impossible.
Even in our room we are outside ourselves.