Just shut up and listen.

I’ve been reading a wonderful book I picked up at Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma called ‘Praying the Bible – An Introduction to Lectio Divina‘ by Mariano Magrassi. Its a wonderful book in which I hope to learn more about ‘praying’ the Bible instead of ‘reading’ the Bible. Its been wonderfully informative thus far.

This morning I spent some time reading the chapter on Concrete Dispositions in which Magrassi talks about preparation for Lectio Divina. One of the dispositions on which he focusses is ‘Dialogue’ about which he explains that the reading of scripture is a dialogue between two people – God and the reader.

When I read, he speaks to me. When I pray, I respond to him. (p. 78)

What struck me, however, was the reminder that God speaks to us first.

The whole Bible stresses the primary of the divine initiative. Augustine says that we would have not sought God if God had not first sought us. It was not Israel who chose God, but God who chose Israel. Speaking of love, John observes that it was God who first loved us. The same must be said of that primordial reality, the Word. God is not only someone who listens to me. Before that, he is someone who speaks to me. The Word is the act by which he takes the initiative: he seeks me, enters my life, takes hold of it and molds it through the power of his love. It is, in a way, the central point of God’s intervention in human life. Our history becomes sacred the moment he intervenes in it.

As I read this, I felt a pang of personal ‘guilt’ as I realized that I have stopped listening to God recently. Its not that I haven’t been ‘praying’ per se, but my prayers have not been a dialogue with God. Over the past several years I had been very good at listening to God and maintaining that dialogue, but more recently – I’ve been doing all the talking.

It struck me that I’ve become somewhat stunted in my spiritual growth in the same way a child or young person can become stunted in their own maturity. As children grow and learn more about themselves and the world around them, they come to a point where they believe that they know what is best for them and that the things that we – as parents – have to say are very ‘nice’ but not entirely necessary. They are kind suggestions, but they need not be taken to heart or given serious consideration as the child believes that they know what is best for them based on their own experiences. It hit me right between the eyes – I have become that child of late.

Its not so much that I don’t follow the 10 Commandments or respect and fully love my faith. I know that the 10 Commandments were not called ‘commandments’ and not ‘suggestions’ for a reason. My spirituality, however, has shallowed somewhat in the sense that I have been going through the motions but without any real or deep intentions. I have continued to believe and practice – but the practicing has been lacking at best and fairly non-existent at the worst.

Does that make me a fraud for trying to write a blog about being a Catholic convert? No – quite the opposite. It makes me a human being on a real and true faith journey in which one will not always be fully immersed in their beliefs to the fullest extent possible. I need to be fully honest about where I am on my faith journey at any given moment in time and know that I am not alone in these experiences.

Thankfully, however, God had us spend a couple of nights along our vacation journey at Clear Creek Monastery and had me stumble upon this wonderful book so that he could give me the good whack up the side of the head that I needed. The whole book has been wonderful reading and has me very excited to return to my Bible with an eager and open heart and prayerful mind, but this chapter in particular has helped me to stop and consider where I most need to modify my behavior.

Too often, God is seen only as an object of faith. All I have then is a set of truths to memorize, rather like dry grammar. I cannot enter into communion with the living God. No, he is first of all the subject of the relationship. God ones to meet me and addresses me through the free and sovereign initiative of God’s love. Then for me, as for Abraham, God has a face and a voice. God called me by name and speaks God’s Word to me. And I fall on my knees before God like Thomas, with a cry of faith, “My Lord and my God.”

With regard to prayer in particular:

… the two participants are the soul and God; the initiative must belong to God. What he says must matter most. We could even say it is the ONLY thing that matters. Thus prayer is first of all listening – listening to someone who speaks in Scripture.

Magrassi explains that prayer that does not begin with the Bible is inconceivable. Here is what I had been missing entirely – I had stepped away from my Bible. This hasn’t been an intentional act, but one that had simply ‘happened’ through the basic acts of ‘life’. Fr. Larry Richards is known for saying

No Bible, no breakfast. No Bible, no bed.

I had always thought that this was a nice discipline, but didn’t understand – until now – the considerable importance summed up into that simple statement. I had thought it something one should ‘do’ to be a good and faithful servant, but had no real understanding as to ‘why’. As I read the chapter in ‘Praying the Bible’, I realized that prayer and the Bible go hand in hand which led me to understand why I had felt a spiritual void. My morning prayers in the Magnificat had been put by the wayside recently meaning that I have had no daily connection with Scripture. I am abundantly aware that this has to change.

Scripture is a letter. Unlike a book, a letter always bears a personal message.

In my own life, I had put aside the importance of reading the personal letters that God wishes for me to experience as part of my faith journey – not just read, but fully experience.

On a larger scale, however, I was also struck by the idea that we, as a society, have stopped listening and have become stunted in our growth. We have decided that we would prefer to life perpetually in a state of childhood whereby we insist that we know best and need not consider that there is a power greater than ourselves that set out to love us first, as our parents love us, and guide us to a greater joy and happiness than we could know if left to make our own decisions without experience or wisdom. One only has to glance at the world around us to realize that we have made a conscious decision to stop listening.

Thankfully, however, I had an opportunity to stop, shut up and have listen to God by reading the book he placed before me and recognize its intention for me as a gentle nudge back onto the path in which he knows will lead me to a more peaceful and meaningful existence. It may not always be ‘easier’, but it will be the one that God intends.

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

… and don’t hesitate to remind me to shut up and just listen.

One item on a list of things that make me crazy.

I’ve been reading a lot about Melinda Gates efforts to donate billions to provide contraceptives to those in poorer countries. In the articles, they usually mention that she is ‘defying the Catholic Church’ by doing so. Take, for example, this particular quote from an article in ‘The Independent’ out of the UK:

Melinda Gates, billionaire philanthropist and practising Catholic, yesterday laid down the gauntlet to the Vatican by vowing to dedicate her life to improving access to contraception for women in the developing world.

This was the FIRST sentence in the article. I know I titled this piece ‘One item’ but I would like to mention two points that jumped off the screen and hit me in the face – I will, however, focus on the first:

1) The article described Mrs. Gates as a ‘practising Catholic’.

2) The article indicated that Mrs. Gates ‘laid down the gauntlet to the Vatican’.

In the second point, the author implies that Mrs. Gates is throwing down a challenge to the Vatican as though they believe that the Church will somehow be swayed by Mrs. Gates and her billions of dollars. That’s right, 2000 years of teaching will be changed because Mrs. Gates has decided that it is better to provide contraception and abortifacients to the underprivileged in poor countries rather than continue their already broad efforts to provide expanded health coverage, or to spend the millions that the Church spends to help provide farms, clean water, shelter etc…

In the eyes of the Catholic Church, every life is sacred and has dignity. In Mrs. Gates world, the solution to the problem is that they simply not be born. Mrs. Gates feels that rather than attempt to instill and educate regarding reproduction and natural forms of preventing pregnancy, that we should instead encourage women to keep their bodies in artificial states of pregnancy and pump their bodies full of synthetic hormones.

Mrs. Gates said:

 “I believe in not letting women die, I believe in not letting babies die, and to me that’s more important than arguing about what method of contraception [is right].”

What she really believes is that life be prevented entirely – in my humble opinion, this borders on eugenics.

What really bothers me, though, is that the author of the article professes that Melinda Gates is a ‘practising Catholic’, yet indicates that she has challenged the Vatican. Clearly the author understands that what Mrs. Gates is promoting is entirely against the most basic and fundamental beliefs of the Church. On the one hand – she is Catholic. On the other hand – she is challenging the Church. How, then, is one a ‘practising’ anything if they are seeking to change the most fundamental teachings.

Every time Catholics attend Mass, we recite the Nicene Creed which states that:

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

This is key and critical. The Catholic Church depends on unity but welcomes diversification. The unity comes from our beliefs, the diversification comes from how we express those beliefs. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly defines the ‘Offenses Against the Dignity of Marriage’ in which it states:

2399    The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).

Yes, yes, there are those will argue – ‘Oh, those men just want to control women… yada yada yada yada’, but one only needs to look back to Pope Paul VI’s predictions as the widespread use of the birth control pill took hold:

In the case of Mrs. Gates, she clearly doesn’t believe in this particular teaching of the Church and, therefore, is not in unity in with the Church. If one is not exercising unity with the Catholic Church, can one then describe themselves as a ‘practising Catholic’? The Church will not change – thank goodness! I’m not here to judge Mrs. Gates, per se, but look at the logic of statements like these. There are lots of things within other faiths that I really like and some which I believe – but I don’t believe ALL of them. Can I call myself a ‘practising Jew’ if I believe that Jesus is the son of God? Can I call myself a ‘practising Mormon’ if I believe in the Holy Trinity? If I don’t believe in the ‘core beliefs’ of a particular faith then should I try and change that faith or look for a faith in which I share the same core beliefs.

As for the effort of the Gates themselves, how nice of them and the folks at the UN to create an even larger environment for the objectification of women. And what about the spread of AIDS? The pill, IUDs etc… do nothing to stop the spread of AIDS. The most successful program in Africa to slow the spread of AIDS took place in Uganda where they promoted – egads – abstinence! Imagine telling people the truth and having it have a positive impact! Will wonders never cease?!

But, back to Mrs. Gates. I’m not sure I can even appreciate the motivation behind her desire to ‘help’ in this particular case because it does nothing to promote or encourage any kind of self-control. Why is it that we must have sex whenever we want it? We recognize the need for self control in other parts of our lives – why not our sexual lives?

The result of her efforts, I believe, will lead to a further breakdown of the family in other parts of the world as has happened in the US. Not everything that the US has provided to other countries has been good, and – in this case – I think we are doing more to harm these particular societies than we are to help them.

Think of the double-speak that exists in this particular situation. Here we are telling those in third world countries that your lives would be better if there were just fewer of you. To me this is insulting and degrading to those this program is professed to help. Nancy Pelosi once stated that:

“Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children’s health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those – one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.”

Mrs. Gates is right along there with her. Very sad.