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.

Stepping outside the comfort zone.

I have been reading ‘Radical Hospitality‘ by Father Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt. Its a wonderful book about Benedictine Hospitality – of which I *thought* I understood, but am learning that I didn’t really know what it truly meant until I started reading this book. We have come to know the idea of hospitality in terms of the social niceties that exist in society today – serving someone a warm meal, offering a place to stay. These are ideas that exist within Benedictine Hospitality, but the idea goes much deeper in its need for us to open ourselves – not just our homes – to strangers.

Hospitality means bringing strangers into your heart, which may or may not result in inviting strangers to the table.

True hospitality requires that we open our very selves to strangers and be willing to listen and care. Doing so, however, doesn’t require that we need to bring people into our lives forever as a result. Someone who gives of themselves

… does not have to attach himself to every person who passes through this open heart of his, however: he can love them at the moment and let them go on.

I am only half way through the book, but there clearly a recognition that asking people to open themselves in this way in this day and age is a radical departure from that which we are used to. Today we fear strangers. We keep a distance from them as we go about our busy lives. We think that the issues and troubles of others are of no concern to us. Asking people to modify this way of thought requires a change of heart and behavior. Changes such as these require most of us to step outside our comfort zone. These days, however, we do not welcome the idea of being outside the comfort zone.

Advertising today shows us that the primary goal of our consumer centered society is to find ‘comfort’ in some way. Comfort can be our feeling good about ourselves because we wear beautiful clothes that are in-style making us feel a part the well-dressed in our society. Wearing the latest styles also gives an appearance that we can afford to throw away our ‘old’ clothes at the whim of designers and clothing companies that need to change styles in order for us to continue to consume. Comfort can also be found in the ease and convenience provided by various products – smart-phones, kitchen appliances, GPS mechanisms in our car, prepared foods. The list goes on and on. Consumers today want ways in which our lives can be made easier – less work means more comfort. We step further and further away from the idea of knowing what it feels like to be outside the comfort zone.

Yesterday, I worked outside in our yard. There was much work to be done and it was a warm day outside. I thought about the comfort zone as I went about completing the yard work in the heat of the sun. My body felt progressively tired and I was starting to feel aches in my knees from bending down and pulling up semi-dead grass that was growing among the spaces in our rock garden. It occurred to me that as we have moved away from an agrarian and rustic society and toward more highly concentrated urban centers, we have stepped further and further away from understanding the challenges of physical labor and more and more toward a society of convenience.

After our second child was born, I began to run more regularly and eventually decided to tackle the challenge of running a marathon. If one ever wants to step outside their comfort zone in a physical sense, run a marathon. For those just starting to run, a 5k can be just as much an accomplishment! When I began to run more competitively – a relative term meaning that I ran in an attempt to improve my time and compete on a local level, I enlisted the help of a coach who would be able to walk me through the training necessary to improve my speed. What I began to learn is what any athlete will be able to tell you – that to improve and excel at a particular sport means being required to step outside of your comfort zone on a physical and mental level on a regular basis. For runners, it means running faster than you intended to run your race and holding that pace for extended periods of time. For distance runners it means logging lots and lots of miles on days when your legs are already tired from a tough workout on previous days and the cumulative effects of already having run lots of regular miles. Doing these things brings discomfort to your body which requires a strong mind in order to overcome and be willing to keep going.

We have also taken the willingness to step outside our comfort zone of pain in child-birth and even breastfeeding with the advent of pain suppressors and formula. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking anyone who opts for the epidural or a shot of Demerol. I fully understand that there are no medals given for women who choose to give birth drug-free. I have to confess that I opted for a shot of Demerol in the birth of our first child because I was feeling as though I was coming a little ‘unglued’, but did manage to relax and overcome the pain of childbirth with our second child and was able to do so drug-free. I share this not to give myself a pat on the back and will confess to you that my choice to do so in both cases was two fold – i) knowing that women have done this for thousands of years and survived made me understand that I would be able to do so and I really wanted to avoid bringing un-natural drugs into the experience and ii) I am petrified of needles and a medial procedure weakling so the thought of an epidural scared me far more than the thought of the pain of the experience which I fully understood would end as soon as my sweet baby was born. Once our beautiful babies are born, many opt to not breastfeed and instead choose formula. I’ve heard a multitude of reasons for this – but the great majority seem to center around either the discomfort that can arise during the initial period of breastfeeding, the inconvenience and embarrassment of breastfeeding in public, not wanting to have enlarged breasts for an extended period of time, or going back to work and not wanting to pump. The theme throughout is the idea that ‘this isn’t going to be a great experience for me’ for some reason or another and will require extra effort. In both cases, my attempt isn’t to criticize anyone who opts for the drugs during childbirth or not to breastfeed – to each his own, but to identify the idea that we are again – in the most natural experiences in our lives – drawn toward the experience that will give us the most comfort.

The ways in which we move toward comfort in our lives are too numerous to mention. Contemplation led me to begin to understand that reaching toward comfort is allowing us to spend our time focussed on a self-centered life and concerned mostly about our own comfort level. How then, can we expect to fully and freely move outside our comfort zone? And if we aren’t willing to step outside our comfort zone, are we truly capable of significant and radical change enabling ourself to give back to those we encounter every single day? This is going to be a wonderful exercise!

Why are the ‘secrets’ of the Eucharist ‘secrets’?

Once a month, I lead a discussion for a group of women who wish to come together to share and deepen their faith. It was never really intended to be a ‘book club’, but our discussions have largely been based upon a monthly reading. We’ve read ‘He and I‘ and this month we read ‘7 Secrets of the Eucharist‘ by Vinny Flynn. We had read it for our meeting last month, but had a guest speaker at last month’s meeting, so we decided to carry over our discussion on ‘The Eucharist’ in order that we could discuss this wonderful little book.

What struck me as I was reading this book is ‘Why the secrets of the Eucharist are secrets?’ Its not as though these are ‘secrets’ in the sense that these are little known facts being intentionally hidden by a select few. The secrets are things that we really *should* know in order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the gift that we have in the Eucharist. The ‘secrets’ are really the things we either keep ourselves from realizing, or have never had the beauty of someone share them so that we may deepen our understanding.

One of the keys to bringing the soul into a faith filled union with the Eucharistic Lord Jesus is the virtue of humility.

For me, one of the most profound and thought provoking statements of the book is the one noted above. Of course, it makes perfect sense – but how often do we stop and ponder our own humility? How often do we do so in a world that rewards those who bring themselves to attention for achieving almost nothing and fails to recognize the virtue that exists within those who quietly achieve great things that change the world.

Flynn goes on to note the ‘The Emmaus Problem’ in which the Apostles fail to recognize the true identity of Jesus until

‘at the breaking of the bread’ their eyes are opened, and they recognize Him (Lk 24: 13-35)

As a convert, the most difficult concept for me to grasp was the idea of ‘transubstantiation‘. Flynn’s discussion of ‘The Emmaus Problem’ spoke to me in a very particular way in that I recognize fully that I continue to try and understand the concept with my head. But, how does one understand ‘The Mystery of Faith’ with one’s head? It cannot be grasped. I am constantly reminding myself of needing to understand with my heart.

The first mystery talks about the Eucharist as being ‘Alive’. I’d never thought of this before. I’d never thought of whether it was a ‘dead’ or ‘living’ Jesus and what that meant. Truthfully, I felt like a bit of a nitwit when I read the bible passage at the end of the chapter.

I am the living bread… Whoever eats this bread will live forever… Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. Jn 6: 51, 57

I had images of Homer Simpson running through my head saying ‘Doh!’. How did I miss this? I’ve only been fortunate enough to receive the Eucharist since December of 2007, but did I really miss this *the whole time*! It wasn’t, however, until I read the whole book and was reminded of other ‘secrets’ of which I was already aware that I realized why Christ was ‘Alive’ in the Eucharist – it is because He lives in Heaven and when we participate in the Mass we are invited into the presence of those in Heaven through the lifting of the veil. Of course – it makes perfect sense. If the Eucharist is the presence of Christ as He exists in Heaven – then the Eucharist *has* to be ‘Alive’. It makes sense… but why am I just now learning this?

‘The flesh of the Son of Man, given as food,’ explains Blessed Pope John Paul II, ‘is his body in its glorious state after the resurrection.’

With this in mind, it is easy to see why Flynn takes significant time to reflect upon the importance of being prostrate in either our bodies or our minds – or both.

Flynn goes on in the second secret to note that ‘Christ is not alone’. How many times when we receive the Eucharist do we hear ‘Body of Christ’ or ‘Blood of Christ’ and think ‘Yep – its the Body of Christ’ or ‘Yep – its the Blood of Christ’, but we forget completely that Christ is only one element of the Holy Trinity. So where Christ is present, so too are God and the Holy Spirit also present. Also, we forget that Christ – in His perfection – cannot be ‘divided’. Hence, His body and blood are fully present in the Eucharist under both species which is why we are in full communion upon receiving either the consecrated Host or the Precious Blood. Flynn also reveals the presence of Heaven during the Eucharistic Liturgy as revealed in the Book of Revelation. A nice summary (albeit somewhat antiquated website!) can be found here and also here.

Time and Space for God is what exists under the 'arc' - it is not limited by linear time or man's concept of space.

The third secret ‘There is only one Mass’. In order to fully understand this aspect, one really needs to understand the first two secrets – they build on each other. The concept of this secret is the idea that God exists across all space and time and that time, for God, is not linear or chronological as it is for us. This is a concept that many seem to struggle with, but somehow my ‘warped’ brain seemed to understand. Two elements that helped me to understand this were asking – if God created the Universe, why would He be constrained to linear or chronological time. We, as humans, live on a chronological time scale and (save for some Saints who were able to bi-locate) can only be in one pace at any given time. God, however, is all encompassing and it would seem almost insulting to box him into the same concept of space and time limiting him to the notion that He can only be in one space and in one point in time. Realizing this, I was able to visualize the idea of a line representing the ground in which we stand and also the linear time scale, and a person (you, me, whomever) at a certain point in time. If it was our names that Jesus whispered on the cross, wouldn’t God be able to be at any point in time that He wanted to be and also at *ALL* the points in time that he wanted to be? With this is in mind and the idea of being invited to be in the presence of those in Heaven from the second secret, it becomes easier to contemplate the idea that when we attend Mass, we are stepping in and out of one Mass.

With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 2 Peter 3:8

The Mass is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ – not a ‘memory’ of it, and not a ‘recreation’. At the Mass

the once-for-all sacrifice of the Cross, which is always present before the Father in heaven, is now made present on our time and place – p. 43

Even more astounding

We sit there in our parish church, locked in the confines of our own time and place, thinking that we’re joining our priest in offering our own particular Mass. But, in reality, Christ is inviting us to enter in, beyond the veil, so that He can lift us up, out of time and into the Eternal Now, into the very sanctuary of heaven, where He leads us into the presence of the Father (See Hebrews 10:19-21)

The awareness and belief in this – in and of itself – is absolutely mind-blowing to me.

In the fourth secret, Flynn asserts that the ‘The Eucharist is not just one miracle’. I have to confess that I didn’t fully grasp this the first time I read this book. One of the women in our group the other night noted that she thought that perhaps Flynn had *really* wanted to have ‘seven’ secrets and could only come up with 6, but then struggled and came up with this idea. She wasn’t quite sold on the idea. After some reflection on the first three miracles, she and I both came around to the idea that if you looked at everything that was taking place during the Mass – it became easier to see that there were, truly, several miracles involved.

Secret 5 was a good reminder – ‘We don’t just receive’. We are invited to participate in a relationship with Christ.

How can we receive such a gift in a merely passive way? Yes, Christ is doing something. But part of what He’s doing is calling to us, inviting us to respond to His initiative in an active way.

We receive innumerable graces through receiving the Eucharist, but we are also called to enter into communion, or to be in ‘union with Christ’. Being in union with Christ means that we are called to be like him, to love him, and to actively participate in our relationship that He and I share.

In Secret 6 we learn that ‘Every Reception is Different’.

…there is an absolute relationship between how I receive and what I receive. – p. 71

Flynn brings into the discussion the passage from 1 Corinthians that is often used to help Catholics explain to our Protestant brothers and sisters why only confirmed Catholics may receive of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church. As Catholics, we believe that the Body and Blood of Christ is present in the consecrated hosts and wine, as such, we also believe

Whoever eats of the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgement on himself. 1 Cor 11:27-29

For years before my confirmation, I attended Mass with my husband and would quietly sit in the pew while the rest of the Mass attendees went to receive the Holy Eucharist. There were times that I did feel ‘excluded’ wondering why I couldn’t receive. As I began to learn more about the faith, I began to understand that its not an ‘exclusion’ with the intent of keeping one from receiving – but rather a concern over the soul of the recipient. For one to attend a Catholic Mass where, through the Priest, the hosts and wine are consecrated to become the Body and Blood of Christ and *not* believe this but still receives the Eucharist calls into the idea that one ‘eats and drinks judgement on himself’. Of course, this opens a pandoras box of discussion regarding the significant number of Catholics that receive and still don’t believe in the true presence of Christ and those who knowingly participate in sinful acts and continue to receive – but that’s well beyond the discussion here. The scripture makes it clear that we are not to judge and that instead those who do so ‘eat and drink judgement on themselves’.

What Flynn does note is that

If when I receive, I’m not desiring this special sacramental union with Christ and trying to get rid of anything in my mind or heart that is blocking it, I gain none of the sacramental effect that Christ wants to give me. I’m still receiving the sacrament, but I get none of its fruit.

and more specifically

My spiritual disposition before, during and after receiving the sacrament will determine whether the sacrament will produce good fruit in me (in varying degrees), have no effect at all, or result in my condemnation. – p. 76

This seems entirely fitting if we review the secrets until this point. They truly do build on one another and are intertwined.

The final secret is the one that opened my eyes in a significant way – ‘There is no limit to the number of times we can receive’. Someone will say, ‘But the teachings of the Church say that we are not to receive more that twice in one day.’ This is true of the number of times we are to receive ‘sacramental’ communion. We can, however, also receive ‘spiritual’ communion.

…we can also receive spiritually through our desire for the sacrament, uniting our hearts to the Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist. – p. 84

When we receive sacramentally, it is ideal for us to also receive spiritually – to be in full communion with Christ body, heart and soul. There are, however, times where we are unable to receive sacramentally, but can still be fully united with Christ which is known as ‘spiritual communion’. Flynn does, however, make it clear

Spiritual communion is not a substitute for sacramental Communion, but a very real anticipation and extension of its fruits.

Throughout the day we may have thoughts about Christ – moments of reflection and contemplation, moments of prayer etc… Why not turn those moments into moments of spiritual communion where through our thoughts and prayers we express our desire to be with Christ. Flynn brings examples of various Saints who lived their lives in perpetual ‘spiritual communion’ – a long shot for a wife, mother of two who works part time and tries desperately to keep up with her blog! St. Catherine of Siena noted a vision of Christ holding two chalices and saying to her

In this golden chalice, I put your sacramental communions. In this silver chalice, I put your spiritual communions. Both chalices are quite pleasing to me.

While perpetual spiritual communion is not likely in the cards for this blogger, there is no reason I cannot make a conscious effort to be in spiritual communion at various points throughout the day. During my morning prayers, after blessing the food at meals, during prayers with my children, even while doing the laundry – I can make a point of saying a little prayer and acknowledging my belief and desire for the sacramental Eucharist and my desire to be in communion with Christ. Flynn notes

Frequency is much more important than duration, because the more you practice spiritual Communion, the more it becomes a habit, a natural instinct to unite yourself with God.

All these ‘secrets’ are beautiful and insightful contemplations on the richness of the Eucharist as the Mystery of Faith. I fully appreciated my RCIA experience, but I wish we had the opportunity to spend more time discussing the Eucharist in the level of detail and on the level which Flynn outlines in his book. But then I ask myself, ‘Would I have been ready to hear and understand these things at that time?’ Perhaps not. Thankfully though, God placed this book in my path along this point in my spiritual journey so that I could not just read the book, but begin to contemplate the beautiful mysteries within and appreciate them each and every time I receive the Eucharist going forward.

‘Witness to Hope’

In an attempt to refocus I’m trying to do more reading about spirituality and living my life based on my beliefs. About a week ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to hear George Weigel speak at our Diocesan Pro-Life office fundraiser. He didn’t disappoint! After the talk, my husband purchased his biography of Blessed Pope John Paul II, ‘Witness to Hope‘.

The book sat on my nightstand for several days taunting me before I dared to open it. At just under 1000 pages and written by George Weigel, it intimidated me somewhat. ‘I’m not smart enough to read this!’ – I kept thinking to myself.

I still may not be smart enough to read the book, but I have started and it hasn’t disappointed thus far:

In order to ensure that the new millennium now approaching will witness a new flourishing of the human spirit, mediated through an authentic culture of freedom, men and women must learn to conquer fear. We must learn not to be afraid, we must rediscover a spirit of hope and a spirit of trust. Hope is not empty optimism springing from a naive confidence that the future will necessarily be better than the past. Hope and trust are the premise of responsible activity and are nurtured in that inner sanctuary of conscience where ‘man is alone with God’ and thus perceives that he is not alone amid the enigmas of existence, for he is surrounded by the love of the Creator – Blessed Pope John Paul II

I can’t wait to read more!