prayer

Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth

Is prayer a form of escape from the world? Is that the ultimate aim of Christian life – to leave this world behind and instead to dwell with God in heaven? Are we to live for the next life, and not for the present life?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, because we are made for God and for eternal life, and we must renounce all finite distractions that would keep us from Him. Our destiny is the fullness of life in God Himself and nothing less. We are told again and again to deny ourselves, to renounce the world, and to live for God alone. We must not fall into thinking that prayer or spirituality or the Christian faith are concerned primarily with improving this world and this life. The Christian faith has a far larger vision.

‘If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.’ [Colossians 3:1-3]

But no, because Jesus came to save the world. He didn’t come to save us out of the world, He came to redeem the entirety of creation with us in it.

‘For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.’ [Romans 8:20-21]

So then, how can we have both yes and no? We save the world with Jesus, but only in renouncing it with Him. ‘Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose it shall preserve it.’ [Lk 17:33] In the same way, whoever seeks to save the world will lose the world, but whoever shall renounce the world will save it.

Jesus saves us and saves the world by the sacrifice He made upon the cross, present at every mass. In this sacrifice, He renounces absolutely everything, His life, His body, His soul, everything He loves and cares for (including you and me), offering it all to the Father. It is in this offering that we are saved. We are sinners, and do not have the purity of heart to truly offer ourselves to God, except by being united to Jesus’s own self offering.

This is the goal of Christian life and the heart of Christian prayer and spirituality. We renounce ourselves and the whole world, and offer it all up to God, united to Jesus’s offering upon the cross. Or to express it differently, we let go of our selves, of every finite thing, of every desire to control and possess and consume, and we entrust it all to God, to Him who is eternal love, uniting ourselves and all the cosmos to the holy sacrifice of the mass.

So then, what does this renunciation and salvation look like? For now, it looks like loving the world, but refusing to grasp at it, even in thought. It looks like placing ourselves and everything in our lives into Love’s everlasting hands. And in the end, it looks like the resurrection of the entire universe.

God bless you.

Asceticism and holiness

In my last post, I claimed that holiness is nothing more and nothing less than abandoning your life to God. It’s not just giving yourself to Him, it’s giving yourself so completely that you are no longer your own. Your cares and worries are no longer yours to deal with. Your time, your talents, your possessions, are not yours anymore. Your will belongs to Him (though it is actually more perfectly yours in this free gift).

So what’s the point of lent then? Why bother with fasting, prayer and almsgiving? Aren’t these an attempt at making ourselves holy? Or even at saving ourselves?

They can be, if we do them incorrectly. But done right, they are precisely the training we need in self-abandonment.

We fast in order to remove the ways we rely on ourselves. We make food and other material things – things we can control – into our happiness, our comfort, and our source of strength. When we remove this, we are forced to look elsewhere.

When we pray, we are then filling that void in the way it was designed to be fulfilled. We place ourselves in God’s hands, where we belong, for Him to be our joy, our security and our strength. If we fast but don’t pray, we will certainly find another false god to fill the void. We will make ourselves a golden calf, because we can control idols.

Finally, we give alms, because we are no longer concerned for ourselves, and are now concerned with giving ourselves to God, who loves and lives in our brothers and sisters. His love is being made the source of our lives, and so we must give ourselves up to this love ever more fully. If we refuse, we refuse to be His. If we fast and pray, but don’t give alms, we are deluding ourselves. If we fast and pray but don’t give alms, the God we pray to is imaginary. He is just an idol in our heads.

Lent is a time of dying to self, and learning to belong to God. Our lenten practices earn us nothing. They accomplish nothing. But they are that death to self that gains God Himself.

God bless you!

‘God descends into thee forever’

​O Lady, Our Lord has become our brother and our Savior.

Like the flame in the burning bush, and the dew in the fleece: the Word of

God descends into thee forever.

The Holy Spirit hath made thee fruitful: the power of the Most High hath overshadowed thee.

Blessed be thy most pure conception: blessed be thy virginal bringing forth.

Blessed be the purity of thy body: blessed be the sweetness of the mercy of thy heart.

Glory be to the Father, etc.

-St. Bonaventure, Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Psalm 8

I am not the Christ

‘And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites to him, to ask him: Who art thou? And he confessed and did not deny: and he confessed: I am not the Christ.’
[Jn 1:19–20 (D-R)]

John the Baptist’s self identity was simply ‘I am not the Christ.’ Who are you? Not the Christ.

There is a strong human tendency to believe that I am the Christ, and it is expressed in the most materialistic and most “spiritual” tendencies of humanity. I think as if I am the solution/saviour of the world.

I am not the Christ.

I suppose I have to do it myself, figure out the problems, answer the questions, heal the wounds. Either because I am so very good and holy, or because I am all we’ve got. Either way, it is the same essential pride.

I am not the Christ.

I am not the solution. I am not the answer. I am not the saviour.

I am not the Christ.

The truth is, I am the problem; I am the question; I am the… savee? [is there a word for one in need of saving?]

Jesus is the Christ, and I am the one in need of the Christ.

Because I am the problem, I will be solved. Because I am the question, I will be answered. Because I mourn, I will laugh. Because I am poor, I will be rich. Because I am not the Christ, I can receive the Christ entirely.

I am not the Christ.

This is what Christian holiness is. It is an absolute refusal to look to our own strength, wisdom, or goodness, which are each less than nothing, and instead abandoning ourselves entirely to God. He alone is our strength, our wisdom, and our goodness.

We are united to Him, because we are not Him. If we are not Him, we will be One with Him, as the Father and the Son are One. If we are Him, we will be utterly apart from Him.

Who am I? I am not the Christ.

God bless you.

One great thing about praying to the Saints

is that I don’t need to pray well, or pray right, or pray holily, because there’s someone else who I know can and will do it for me. My prayers don’t need to be anything special, because I’m not relying on myself.

This is how all prayer should be: trusting the One who hears our prayers, and not the one who says them, or how they are said. The annoying thing is, when I try to do this, all too often I try to pray well, by trying not to try–stupid, right? Hopefully, as I learn more of God’s goodness, I’ll look less and less to myself and more and more to God.

It’s a fantastic thing, knowing that you’re part of the communion of the saints, and that there’s a whole army of angels and saints who always have your back. We never walk alone. We always have others to rely on.

I think God gives us the saints like He gave us Jesus, because we tend towards fearing and hiding from God, not trusting His merciful love. Saints can understand me, so I can trust them not to judge me. God is even better than His saints, but He reveals this through them, letting them incarnate His mercy.

God bless you!

Do you let his fire inflame your heart?

‘We need to remember that “contemplation of the face of Jesus, died and risen, restores our humanity, even when it has been broken by the troubles of this life or marred by sin. We must not domesticate the power of the face of Christ”. So let me ask you: Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. How will you then be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and witness? If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mercy.’
-Gaudete et Exsultate n. 151

What’s the point of monks & nuns?

I was thinking recently about the contemplative life – the life of those who give themselves up entirely to prayer, night and day – and had those common, critical thoughts about it: Isn’t it cowardly, abandoning the world? Why don’t they do something good and useful for the world instead? Isn’t it selfish, to leave the world in its misery, and go to seek your own heavenly bliss?

It troubled me, because I know the Church teaches not only its goodness, but (at least traditionally) its superiority to the active life. Jesus Himself said, Mary chose the better part, and it will not be taken from her.

And then (thank God), I realised that I was judging the contemplative life not even by the standards of the active life, but by the standards of the world. The contemplative life is on a different plane, and can’t be comprehended by the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot grasp it.

The contemplative life weds Heaven to earth, marries God to creation. That is why it is linked to celibacy (that, and practical concerns). In the Contemplative, creation is surrendered and offered to the Father, through and with and in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through the Contemplative’s prayer, she is divinized, and all of creation with her. In her prayer, we are being brought to fulfillment in Christ.

The contemplative life appears cowardly, because we miss the true battleground of life. To a communist, the wars of the capitalists are stupid, not brave, because the true war, the war that will resolve all others, is the class war; to the Catholic, both are foolish, and every other human war too, because the true war, the one that will resolve all others, is the spiritual war.

It appears useless, because it is the very meaning of life. And how could the ultimate meaning be recognised by those who set their minds upon the use of things, rather than their final ends?

It appears as selfish, because in our selfish worldview, we wrongly assume that happiness and the desire for happiness are selfish. We assume that happiness comes from the self, when in truth, it is from the death of the self, and the Life of God. Contemplatives are happy insofar as they die to themselves, and no further. We have died, and the life we now live is hidden with Christ in God.

So what shall we make of the active life? The active life must be brought to entirely serve the life of the Spirit. Our work is not its own end, however good it may be, but is there for us to encounter and adore God in it.

The contemplative life is superior to the active as the end is superior to the means. Yet, if the active is a servant to the contemplative, it may thereby not only participate in the contemplative, but even fulfil and supercede it by humility. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

God bless you!

Does prayer change things?

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I find the idea of prayer often tests my faith. It brings out my inner cynic. When I see #PrayFor____ on twitter, or 1 like = 1 prayer on Facebook, I find myself cynical. Almost instantly, I think the whole thing is a pointless ego boost for the poster, and that we should care enough to actually do something. I even stumble when I hear about sincere religious, devoting their entire lives to prayer in isolation from the world.

It’s easy to believe the boring explanation that prayer works simply by changing us. At its most basic, that’s obvious psychology. And it’s not too tough to believe that prayer “allows” God to change us, or that we “open ourselves” to God. Or to believe that we send out spiritual energies or whatever you like, which become reality. But to really believe that simply asking can actually make a difference to the world, that God actually listens and reacts in the world, is a challenge.

Yet this is at the very heart of our faith. Our age has a tendency and desire for divine principles over divine persons. Why? Because principles can be harnessed and made useful, whereas people are free, and therefore (we fear) free to oppress. We want something to tap into, not someone to live in us. This idea can even seem more “spiritual” to our modern minds.

But our God is personal. This doesn’t mean that He is some guy in the clouds, with a will and attitude as temperamental as our ours, nor even that He’s the best guy in the universe, and so the least temperamental. He doesn’t possess an arbitrary will like we do.

It means God is free, and God is freedom. He is not bound by any rules (*gruff voice* not even his own). But God’s freedom is not merely our freedom from, by which less external force constrains the fulfilment our wills; God’s freedom is the entirely positive freedom, to truly exist, to truly and completely go out from Himself, as Himself. And even further, He Himself is this going out from Himself. Nothing conditions God’s existence or actions, not even an arbitrary “divine nature” we might (wrongly) suppose God in some sense was given. God’s personhood, God’s freedom, God’s love, is His nature.

Now if we truly believe that God is personal and God is free, we must believe that He can act on behalf of those He loves. We have to truly believe that God acts.

It is true that in prayer we do not, and cannot, change God. God cannot be bought or bartered with. Nor can we change God’s plans or actions. God is not within time, and so neither God nor God’s choices can change. And yet, from His throne, in the Divine Eternity that He Himself is, He subjects Himself to the temporal wills of His beloved creatures. From Eternity, He accepts requests from time, which He answers from Eternity and within time.

When God answers a prayer, He was always going to answer that prayer because it was always going to be prayed. The answer to the prayer was determined from the foundation of the world, because the prayer was heard at the foundation of the world.

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God bless you