Friday, April 27, 2012

Devotion for today: contemplation: firmly rooted in life

Scripture for meditation: 2 Corinthians 5:7
We live by faith, not by sight.

Scripture for reflection: John 20:29
“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe.”

Thomas Merton tells us: In meditation we should not look for a “method” or a “system,” but cultivate an “attitude,” an “outlook”: faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust, joy. All these finally permeate our being with love in so far as our living faith tells us we are in the presence of God, that we live in Christ, that in the Spirit of God we “see” God our Father without “seeing.” We know him in the “unknowing.” Faith is the bond that unites us to him in the Spirit who gives us light and love. Some people may doubtless have a spontaneous gift for meditative prayer. This is unusual today. Most people have to learn to meditate. There are ways of meditation. But we should not expect to find magical methods; systems which will make all difficulties and obstacles dissolve into thin air. Under the pretext that what is “within” is in fact real, spiritual, supernatural, etc., one cultivates neglect and contempt for the “external” as worldly, sensual, material, and opposed to grace. This is bad theology and bad asceticism. In fact, it is bad in every respect because instead of accepting reality as it is, we reject it in order to explore some perfect realm of abstract ideals which in fact has no reality at all. Very often the inertia and repugnance which characterize the so-called “spiritual life” of many Christians could perhaps be cured by a simple respect for the concrete realities of everyday life, for nature, for the body, for one’s work, one’s friends, one’s surroundings, etc. A false supernaturalism which imagines that “the supernatural” is a kind of realm of abstract essences (as Plato imagined) that is totally apart from and opposed to the concrete world of nature offers no real support to a genuine life of mediation and prayer. Meditation has no point unless it is firmly rooted in life (excerpt from Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton, as found in Devotional Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, Harper Colllins, 1993).

Prayer: Praises of God (Prayer of St. Francis and St. Clare)
You are holy Lord, the only God, and your deeds are wonderful. You are strong. You are great. You are the Most High. You are almighty. You, Holy Father, are King of heaven and earth. You are Three and One, Lord God, all good. You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true. You are love. You are wisdom. You are humility. You are endurance. You are rest. You are peace. You are joy and gladness. You are justice and moderation. You are all our riches, and you suffice for us. You are beauty. You are gentleness. You are our protector. You are our guardian and defender. You are courage. You are our haven and our hope. You are our faith, our great consolation. You are our eternal life, great and wonderful Lord, God almighty, merciful Savior. May the power of your love, O Lord, fiery and sweet as honey, wean my heart from all that is under heaven, so that I may die for love of your love, you who were so good as to die for love of my love.

My thoughts: Thomas Merton has a way of rooting us in reality as we complete our week of looking at contemplation. Although a strong prayer life must contain quiet time to hear the word of God in our hearts, we must also recognize that everything in our lives can and should be a prayer. No one recognized this better than St. Francis of Assisi, who wrote canticles to “Brother Sun and Sister Moon and Stars.” To spend time in contemplation of God’s goodness in our lives, to see His hand in our talents and successes, to ask Him to show us His will for our lives is a good and necessary way to spend time with Our Father. The next step, however, is to take everything we learn from our quiet time into the world. Who we are and what we have is all a gift – meant to be given away. Let us go forth from our week of learning about contemplation more determined to spend quiet time with God, to make every effort to hear His will for us, and then to joyfully give ourselves over to the transformation of our part of the world!

Our prayer to God: A good way to start a quiet time with God is to prepare our hearts and minds for contemplation. St. Francis’ prayer of Praise helps to settle our minds and aids us in focusing on God and not our worldly concerns. Try it out as you come before the Lord.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Devotion for today: Art and Prayer

Scripture for meditation: Luke 1:46
And Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord.”

Scripture for reflection: Psalm 145: 4-5
One generation praises your deeds to the next and proclaims your mighty works. They speak of the splendor of your majestic glory; tell of your wondrous deeds.
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Pope Benedict XVI tells us: …Today I would like to reflect briefly on one of these channels that can lead to God and can also be of help in the encounter with him. It is the way of artistic expression, part of that “via pulchritudinis” — the “way of beauty”, of which I have spoken several times and whose deepest meaning must be recovered by men and women today. It may have happened on some occasion that you paused before a sculpture, a picture, a few verses of a poem or a piece of music that you found deeply moving, that gave you a sense of joy, a clear perception, that is, that what you beheld was not only matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a collection of letters or an accumulation of sounds, but something greater, something that “speaks”, that can touch the heart, communicate a message, uplift the mind. A work of art is a product of the creative capacity of the human being who in questioning visible reality, seeks to discover its deep meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, color and sound. Art is able to manifest and make visible the human need to surpass the visible; it expresses the thirst and the quest for the infinite. Indeed it resembles a door open on to the infinite, on to a beauty and a truth that go beyond the daily routine. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and of the heart, impelling us upward… when we listen to a piece of sacred music that plucks at our heartstrings, our mind, as it were, expands and turns naturally to God. I remember a concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach in Munich, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. At the end of the last passage, one of the Cantatas, I felt, not by reasoning but in the depths of my heart, that what I had heard had communicated truth to me, the truth of the supreme composer, and impelled me to thank God. The Lutheran bishop of Munich was next to me and I said to him spontaneously: “In hearing this, one understands: it is true; such strong faith is true, as well as the beauty that irresistibly expresses the presence of God’s truth”….Paul Claudel, a famous French poet, playwright and diplomat, precisely while he was listening in the Cathedral of Notre Dame to the singing of the Magnificat during Christmas Mass in 1886, had a tangible experience of God’s presence. He had not entered the church for reasons of faith but rather in order to seek arguments against Christians, and instead, God's grace worked actively in his heart. Dear friends, I ask you to rediscover the importance of this path also for prayer, for our living relationship with God. ….Let us hope that the Lord will help us to contemplate his beauty, both in nature and in works of art, so that we, moved by the light that shines from his face, may be a light for our neighbor. Many thanks. BENEDICT XVI,GENERAL AUDIENCE ,Castel Gandolfo, Wednesday, 31 August 2011 copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Prayer: Psalm 147: 7-8; Psalm 145: 1-3
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; with lyre, celebrate our God. I will extol you, my God and king; I will bless your name forever. Great is the Lord and worthy of high praise: God’s grandeur is beyond understanding.

My thoughts: In trying to find ways to contemplate the majesty of God, we have a virtual palate of beautiful expressions given to us by artists, musicians, sculptors and the like. The trick is to make time in our busy lives for leisure, for time to stroll inside a Cathedral, stand and stare at a beautiful stained glass window, and see the glory of God. Time spent listening to rapturous music can lift our weary souls straight to heaven. It is all there for us, but we have to seek it out, and contemplate it in order to see the face of God in it. I once read, “A country without leisure is a country without God.” How true it is! Robotic work habits force us out of the beautiful and into the mundane, and God is anything but mundane. Let us find a way to lift our souls through the arts so that we may join with the Pope in declaring, “In hearing this, one understands!”

Our prayer to God: Our quest for contemplation must include some form of the arts. Let us take time this week to listen to the word of God in beautiful music, to see His face in a master painting, to feel His presence as we stroll through an old Cathedral, or to hear His whisperings as we read inspiring works of literature. God has given us many ways to find Him, if we but take the time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Devotion for today: a time and a space for God

Scripture for meditation: Romans 5:4,5
Sufferings bring patience… and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Scripture for reflection: Matthew 6:6
“Go to your private room and when you have shut your door, pray to the Father who is in that secret place.”

Continuing with Henri Nouwen: Without solitude, it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and him alone…. To bring solitude into our lives is one of the most necessary but also most difficult disciplines. As soon as we are alone, without people…books…TV…phones… an inner chaos opens up in us…. inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires…. The confrontation with our inner conflicts can be too painful for us to endure. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important…. Therefore, we must begin by carefully planning some solitude. Five or ten minutes a day may be all we can tolerate…. The amount of time will vary for each person according to temperament, age, job, lifestyle, and maturity. But we do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be with God and to listen to him…. Once we have committed ourselves to spending time in solitude, we develop an attentiveness to God’s voice in us. In the beginning…we may have the feeling that we are simply wasting our time…. At first, the many distractions keep presenting themselves. Later, as they receive less and less attention, they slowly withdraw. It is clear that what matters is faithfulness to the discipline. In the beginning, solitude seems so contrary to our desires that we are constantly tempted to run away from it….But when we stick to our discipline, in the conviction that God is with us even when we do not yet hear from him, we slowly discover that we do not want to miss our time alone with God…. We even start looking forward to this strange period of uselessness. This desire for solitude is often the first sign of prayer, the first indication that the presence of God’s Spirit no longer remains unnoticed. As we empty ourselves of our many worries, we come to know not only with our mind but also with our heart that we were never really alone, that God’s Spirit was with us all along…. The discipline of solitude… is one of the most powerful disciplines in developing a prayerful life. It is a simple, though not easy, way to free us from the slavery of our occupations and preoccupations and to begin to hear the voice that makes all things new. (Devotional Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, Harper Collins, 1993)

Prayer: Sweet heart of Jesus, be my Love.

My thoughts: I defer my thoughts to those of Richard Foster, editor of the above mentioned book. He voices so well the summation of what we have read for the last two days: Solitude is one of the deepest disciplines of the spiritual life because it crucifies our need for importance and prominence. Everyone – including ourselves at first - will see our solitude as a waste of good time. We are removed from “where the action is.” That, of course, is exactly what we need. In silence and solitude God slowly but surely frees us from our egomania. In time we come to see that the really important action occurs in solitude. Once we have experienced God at work in the soul, all the blare and attention of the world seem like a distant and fragmentary echo. Only then are we able to enter the hustle and bustle of today’s machine civilization with perspective and freedom.

Our prayer to God: A really good way to introduce solitude into our lives is to arrive 15 to 30 minutes early for Mass. Simply sit in the pew with your eyes closed, and let God speak to you in the depths of your heart. It will be the most important conversation you will have all week!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Devotion for today: from absurd to obedient: the practice of stillness

Today we find that a disciplined prayer life is one centered on creating a space to listen.

Scripture for meditation: Psalm 46:10
Be still and know that I am God.

Scripture for reflection: Mark 1:35
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Henri Nouwen tells us: Here we touch the question of discipline in the spiritual life. A spiritual life without discipline is impossible….The practice of spiritual discipline makes us more sensitive to the small, gentle voice of God…and willing to respond when we hear it…. It is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when he is speaking to us. We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us and unable to understand in which direction he calls us. Thus our lives have become absurd.  In the word absurd we find the Latin word surdus, which means “deaf.” A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear. When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives. The word obedient comes from the Latin word audire, which means “listening.” A spiritual discipline is necessary in order to move slowly from an absurd to an obedient life, from a life filled with noisy worries to a life in which there is some free inner space where we can listen to our God and follow his guidance….The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God. A spiritual discipline, therefore, is the concentrated effort to create some inner and outer space in our lives, where this obedience can be practiced. Through a spiritual discipline we prevent the world from filling our lives to such an extent that there is no place left to listen. A spiritual discipline sets us free to pray, or, to say it better, allows the Spirit of God to pray in us. (Devotional Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, Harper Collins, 1993)

Prayer: O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore you. Enlighten, guide me, console me. Tell me what I must do; give me your orders. I promise to subject myself to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your will. Cardinal Mercier (Catholic Prayers for Every Day and All Day, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2003).

My thoughts: Listening to God takes great discipline in a world filled with noise, yet in many spiritual books the authors describe one of the greatest marks of the devil as the noise he makes. God, on the other hand, is peaceful, quiet, a still voice inside of us calling us to Him. That is why we must take time, and discipline ourselves to find a quiet place to simply listen, and become obedient. Maybe then we can truly pray with Cardinal Mercier, “Let me accept all that you permit to happen to me.” What a prayer!
Our prayer to God: Discipline in our lives is hard to accomplish. Tomorrow we will continue with Henri Nouwen as he describes how to do this. For now, let us try to turn from an absurd life to an obedient life by listening to God in solitude for five minutes. Maybe as distractions come up we can write them down, and then turn them into a prayer when we have finished our quiet time.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Devotion for today: Contemplate the Lord

This week we will examine quiet time with God

Scripture for meditation: Psalm 27:4
One thing I ask of the Lord, this I seek: to dwell in the Lord’s house all the days of my life, to gaze on the Lord’s beauty, to visit his temple.

 Scripture for reflection: Luke 10:42
“There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Julian of Norwich tells us: Just as our flesh is covered by clothing, and our blood is covered by our flesh, so are we, soul and body, covered and enclosed by the goodness of God. Yet, the clothing and the flesh will pass away, but the goodness of God will always remain and will remain closer to us than our own flesh. God only desires that our soul cling to him with all of its strength, in particular, that is clings to his goodness. For of all of the things that our minds can think about God, it is thinking upon his goodness that pleases him most and brings the most profit to our soul. For we are so preciously loved by God that we cannot even comprehend it. No created being can ever know how much and how sweetly and tenderly God loves them. It is only with the help of his grace that we are able to persevere in spiritual contemplation with endless wonder at his high surpassing, immeasurable love which our Lord in his goodness has for us. Therefore we may ask from our Lover to have all of him that we desire. For it is our nature to long for him, and it is his nature to long for us. In this life we can never stop loving him….For of all things, contemplating and loving the Creator made my soul seem less in its own sight and filled it full with reverent fear and true meekness…. (Devotional Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, Harper Collins, 1993).

Prayer: Psalm 8:1, 3-5, 9
O Lord, Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory, and honor. O Lord, Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

My thoughts: This week we will be reading from great saints and writers who profess a dedication to contemplation. We learn today from Julian of Norwich, a popular English mystic, that she finds great joy in contemplating the goodness of God. It is good for us to take time every day to just do nothing but think about the goodness of God. Some of us might find the inside of a beautiful church a vehicle for this meditation time; others may find it along a nature trail; still others, in the quiet of a room with a beautiful work of art or music. However you find it, take the opportunity every day to spend time in silent reflection of the loving and good God who chose to create you, and thank Him for the gift that you are to Him and to others in your life.

Our prayer to God: Let us join our voices with that of Julian of Norwich who once wrote, “O God, by your goodness give me yourself, for you are enough for me.”