Sunday, April 06, 2014
"Dead End." This is the last thing I would want to see when I'm trying to find my way to a destination. It awakens a host of negative feelings inside me: disappointment over all the lost time spent driving around, anger because I'm late arriving, or fear because I don't know where I am and it's getting dark and isolated! Our prayer life can be just a bit like that. In the beginning of our spiritual journey, our prayer life may have been full of life and energy. Everything spoke to us of God and we felt empowered to spread this good tiding around. We seemed to have penetrated well the hidden meanings of things we found in spiritual books and we felt enlivened by the message they contained. We seemed to have understood the things of God and were able to endure difficult trials because our spirit was soaring and our consolations were abundant. No penance was too difficult, no vigils too long. Practicing virtue was easy and we can't seem to understand why other people don't get it. "I can do all things in Christ" was our motto. This was well and good because God willed it so. God, like a loving mother, knows well how to nourish us and how to feed us with the right food to sustain our young spirits. But St. Paul says that there is a different wisdom for the spiritually mature. As delightful as this experiences might be, we leave behind our swaddling clothes and enter the arena of the spiritually mature. Our faith needs to be tested and it begins to feed on meat instead of milk in order to grow. We enter this arena voluntarily because we understand that this is important. We decide to practice small sacrifices to test ourselves and learn self-knowledge. We give up temporal goods to restrain our inordinate appetites and strengthen our spirit. This is worthwhile because it shows our goodwill and good intentions of wanting to cooperate in God's work of sanctifying us. It shows readiness to till the ground and prepare it for sowing. This is what St. John of the Cross would call active purification. But even this is imperfect because it depends heavily on our sense and ability to control.
St. John offers a second scenario: the passive purification. Passive because it is accomplished by God. When our intellect gives up because there is no perceivable explanation, our hope dies because the possibilities are exhausted and our will weakens because hope is gone. This is pure dark night. But God works in His own ways and in His own time. How many times you hear people say "I can't pray!" "nothing is happening!" "I feel like I'm getting worse than better." "What is the use of even praying when God does not seem to care!" You finally hit the sign on the road that says: Dead End. And then all the negative emotions begin to surface. Anger.. Disappointment.. Discouragement.. Helplessness.. Fear.. Anxieties.. Do we then give up? Do we then just sit in the car until a cop shows up and shows us the way? "O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my entreaty according to your faithfulness, answer me according to your justice." This becomes our prayer. Lord, answer me, not because of my faithfulness but because YOU are faithful. Answer me not because I deserve it but because YOU are just. Justice is giving someone his / her due. God knows we are miserable creatures who are dependent on Him for everything, so why will He not give us what we need?
Any time is a beautiful time to boast of our helplessness. God is always generous because Christ went through His Passion and Death for our sake. St. Paul writes: "And so approach confidently the throne of grace, where Christ sits at the right hand of God, to bestow mercy upon mercy." We pray for many reasons. We pray because we feel a need for it. We pray because we know we have to. We pray because our hearts are made for God and we find our deepest happiness in being with him, whether we perceive Him or not. And we pray because there is no other way to God.
Read the rest of Psalm 142