In the month of January I take time away from routine daily work in order to gain new perspectives and to reinvigorate myself in different ways.
Some of the time is devoted to pure vacation. Other time is devoted to intense prayer, retreat, and reflection.
Staples of the spiritual diet
Reading the lives of the saints, reflecting and meditating on the Holy Scriptures, along with celebrating Mass each day and saying a daily rosary are staples of the spiritual diet.
After a few weeks I feel appropriately nourished, opened up, if you will, to new ideas, to re-cementing my life in Christ, to all the givens of the spiritual life.
I had shared the substance of what you just read in the preceding paragraphs with a relative of mine who responded with a quick question: "so, what were some of the specifics of what you learned?"
Worrying only empties our strength
Well, I said, I learned that "worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strength." Some good Irishman must have thought up that one.
Other areas of my reflections centered on how central Christ must be in our daily lives and how prayer must be the very life of oneness, that is of being one with Christ.
Retreat time allows us moments to be silent. We live in an environment of noise and ceaseless activity; T.V. is a prime example of how we live on the edge of interruptions - commercials, colorful and sometimes funny, but endless in their timing.
Silence amid the world's noise
Amid that noise we must silence our hearts in order to hear God. Providing an absence of noise is fairly easy, but our prayer life suffers so much because our hearts are not truly silent.
The world directs the hankering of our hearts to want things, money, food, alcohol, clothing, the newest gadget, cars, computers, and other machines. The constant reach of the heart fed by T.V. commercials weakens our resolve to move closer to Jesus, whose heart, mind, and total being was always quietly turned toward God the Father and his will for him.
Finding a quiet space . . . settling down in quietness in a world that is revved up, always in a noisy high gear and moving rapidly, is not easy.
But the real challenge is to quiet the heart before we begin our real prayer.
God's love and tender care
Without it, we will never sense the depth of God's love for us, how wonderfully tender is his love and care of us.
A quiet, silent heart truly opens us to God's ways. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux says it, "For me, prayer means launching out of the heart toward God; a cry of grateful love from the crest of joy or the trough of despair; it is a vast, supernatural force that opens out my heart and binds me close to Jesus."
Christ calls us to holiness
In our quest to become holy, to answer Christ's call to become holy, we must quiet our hearts in order to make our love of God more living, more sure, more tender.
I wrote this column on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, January 25th. The imagery used in Paul's conversion story, as he relentlessly pursued the early Christians as enemies of Judaism, shows him knocked off his horse, hearing the voice of Christ as he hit the hard bumps of the road, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
In the Church today, we have something similar. We have been knocked off our horse - and we must develop quiet, trusting hearts full of love and determination. We must live deeply and fully in Christ, allowing him to draw us toward conversion and new life. Nothing less will do.