Waiting for the Lord: Prayer & Discernment - Notes (Nov 22nd)
Post date: Nov 24, 2017 7:41:02 AM
Pre-Advent Retreat: "People Look East" by Fr. Cristino Bouvette
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
"Waiting for the Lord: Prayer & Discernment"
[Transcribed from voice recording.]
Encouraging that the people who are waiting for their messiah should look East, as has been since ancient custom on belief that the Lord Jesus, as he rises from the dead, as the same way the sun rises from the east, so we will look and find him returning in his glory from the East.
And for that help in a visual reminder of that way, which has been a custom of the Church's prayer for so many centuries, we contemplated, as we look upon our Lord, with the exposed blessed sacrament of last night, facing the alter, altogether in that unified gesture of prayer, facing together our Father in Heaven, offering to Him the sacrifice of His Son, we are reminded of that need for us to perpetually turn our gaze towards the Lord. That we are facing, as priest and people - the whole Church together - directing our prayers to the Lord, waiting for His return. And this then, marks for us, the way which we make the best possible preparation for Advent.
We prepare for Advent by considering beginnings and endings, which comprise our entire life. Our entire life being that long string of beginnings and endings. So there, what took me half an hour to contemplate last night, I summarized in a minute.
And so we can turn our attention to a more focused and intentional theme of a fruit that we can receive from the season of Advent. And that is that experience of waiting for the Lord.
We consider that analogy of the compass. Where the needle of the compass, were it to always be spinning, would never point us in any one direction. And how so often, the frenetic pace of our life sends us spiralling in that same way; looking everywhere but actually looking nowhere, facing every direction and therefore pointing in no direction. We must firmly plant our feet, and when we plant our feet and look forward, then we can be sure that we are heading in a direction. A great mystery of our life is wondering: Are we heading in the right direction? And that is something that we bring to the Lord in prayer, but other times it is something that brings us to look around our surroundings and ask: What are they suggesting? Are there things in our lives that seem disordered? Disorganized? Out of sync? If those things are happening that way, perhaps its pointing to an internal reality as well, where that compass is spinning but pointing nowhere. That compass of our hearts.
The season of Advent, then, reminds us where to look. It reminds us how to focus our attention. With that experience of anticipation, where we are not just waiting in a sense of passing time, but where we are longing. The Church's prayer has always been centred around the very same way our Lord Himself, and all our Jewish ancestors prayed and continue to pray. That is with the sacred book of the Psalms. And a frequent theme throughout the Psalms is that longing for God.
O God, You are my God. For You, my soul is thirsty, like a dry, weary lamb without water.
It has been written into our hearts to long for God. So when we first now begin by considering this theme of waiting for the Lord, let us always remember that when we are waiting for the Lord, it's not because He is keeping us, it's not because He's been delayed. When we speak of waiting for the Lord, we should always be able to replace that word with longing. That we are longing for the Lord. And that is the source of our dissatisfaction. That is the reason for our unrest. That we are longing for something that we still just do not quite have yet. When we think of it the other way, we consider that God is inconveniencing us; "If You would just show Yourself, Lord, if You would just tell me what You wanted, if You would make Your plan clear for my life, I would do it. But no, instead its this waiting." The waiting game. That's a game that we only play with ourselves. That is a figment of our imagination. We have created that game. God does not keep us waiting. God invites us to keep longing. That we would learn to perpetually long for Him, realizing that He alone is our satisfaction.
Growing us, we have a custom in our family of keeping those little advent calendars. For each day, leading up to Christmas, we pop open a little square and take out your little chocolate. A fun way of counting down until Christmas has finally come. Why that practice - as tasty as it is, as cute as it may be - is not helpful in teaching us what Advent is about, is because all we ever really longing for is that day's treat! My little piece of chocolate for today. And in a certain sense, the culminating moment is when you've run out of chocolate!
For us, that is the way we look at our relationship with God. We think to ourselves that He just throws us these little tidbits until He finally leaves us really hanging. With no clarity, with no certainty of where we are going or what should be our direction. And so we become frustrated with Him. We do not reject Him. We do not curse Him. We do not deny our faith in Him. We simply become dissatisfied with Him. And Satan works with that.
Satans says, "Ah! I see. God's keeping you waiting again. Go figure." So then he says, "Just do what you want. You don't want bad things. You're not a bad person. You're not going to do anything evil. Just do what you want." Satan deceives us with half-truths. He never out-right lies to us. He knows that for a soul who has tried to love God will see right through that. So he presents half the truth to us.
"You're right, I don't want anything bad. This isn't so wrong for me, to want this. I don't even think it's a sin. I'm going for it. Sorry if it wasn't Your plan Lord, but You left me hanging." How often is that not our thought process? Where we sense that we need to take matters into our own hands, because of the silence of God. "I've tried, Lord. I was waiting, Lord. I was listening, Lord. You just didn't show up."
Interesting that for the story of the whole Old Testament, that was what was said. "When are you coming, Lord? We're waiting, Lord. We're in bondage, Lord. We're in captivity, Lord. We're in exile! Hello?" And what does our Lord say?
"They have missed the hour of their visitation."
Nothing that we could ever say, even critically or even merely as an observation, of the story of the people of Israel is something unique to them. It's always our story too. And continues to be our story, even after we professed our faith in the revelation of Christ Himself!
We missed the time of our visitation. Often. Because we stopped longing for Him, and we're impatiently waiting for Him.
The season of Advent reminds us to long for Him, to desire Him, to desire only Him. So that we begin to experience what it feels like to know we aren't fulfilled, to know that something else is coming. And to make peace with that. Because ultimately, nothing in this life, including our vocation, including great success in our apostolates, including our spouse or our religious vows, nothing will satisfy us the way that heaven is meant to satisfy us. That's the point.
If you speak to at least some streams of dieticians, they will say that the key is always staying just a little bit hungry. Never eat until you're totally full. Always know that you could have had a little bit more. Because first, that teaches you self-discipline and self-control. Second, it protects you from ever accidentally over-eating. And there's some wisdom in that. For us to make peace with and actually be comfortable with that feeling that I'm still not quite yet full. That's why we fast in our tradition. Not just to inflict discomfort on ourselves, but for that deeper, spiritual experience of still longing, of still being hungry.
If you go an entire day without eating, I think that's easier than eating a little bit here, and a little bit here, and a little bit there. Because over and over and over again, you keep reminding yourself that you're not filling yourself up. Because of a mental thing; we become so focused on how hungry we are. It is not uncommon for me. It is not because I am a priest, but it's because this fast-paced life which we live, that I will fast almost the entire day without having something to eat. You just get busy and frenetic and running around. And anytime that happens, I only barely notice that I'm hungry. But Good Friday? Ash Wednesday? Oh my gosh, it's all I can think about! I'm starving. I'm starving because I'm fasting. This fasting is killing me! There're some Ash Wednesdays when still observing the laws of the fast, I've still eaten more than just a Tuesday on the 30th week of Ordinary time, because I got busy.
When we think about it so much, we torment ourselves. But when we are just busy about doing our work, faithfully completing our tasks, we're not tormented.
Many of you do not know, at this moment in your life, what God is asking from you. You do not know your vocation. You're contemplating marriage, but you're not quite sure yet. You're terrified that maybe He's calling you to enter the seminary and consider the priesthood. You've wondered if you're called to the religious life but you just don't know where to begin. You're afraid that maybe He actually just wants you to remain single - God forbid! - and devote yourself and your apostolates to the sanctification of the world. And we torment ourselves, because it's all we think about that we still don't know. And I don't know what I'm doing. And I don't know where I'm going. And I don't know what You want from me. And why aren't You talking to me? And when are You going to tell me the answer?
And He doesn't say a word. He just stands back, and perhaps with even a slight grin, watches it. He says, "What are you doing? I created the entire universe from nothing. Do you think I accidentally forgot you? Do you think I somehow didn't notice your plan? Even though all of existence stands before me as in an instant? Why are you tormenting yourself?"
We torment ourselves, in our discernment, because we refuse to discern, and want instantly to be able to decide. Decision, is the final product. It must eventually happen. But first comes discernment, and then comes discovery, and then we can decide. But if we ignore the discernment, if we presume that theres nothing to discover - it's just supposed to be put in my face - what's there to decide about? And thus, it seems, our torment. As we prepare to enter into the season of Advent, we would do well, in whatever state of life we are in, if we are contemplating our vocation, if we are discerning a major life decision, to calm ourself down, and say, "Lord, for these 4 weeks, as I point myself in Your direction, looking at You, help me long only for You."
One fo the greatest minds of all time. One of the most important contributors to the theology of our faith, Saint Thomas Aquinas. And it is said that once St. Thomas Aquinas was at prayer in the chapel, unaware that a confrere was seated somewhere at the back. And he was sighing and groaning heavily. Some might say it was because he was overweight, but I don't think so. He was praying. And then this friar, heard a voice speak from the crucifix to St. Thomas, "Bene scripsisti de me Thomma."
"You have written well of me, Thomas. What do you desire."
Imagine, you're at home and your crucifix comes to life. And Jesus says, "You've been doing great. What do you want?" Do we act like we act like we just had a genie pop out of a bottle and say, "Okay, ah! I need some time to think! Give me-give me 5 minutes!"
Hopefully, we have the wits and the sanity to answer as St. Thomas did. He said, "I desire only Yourself, O Lord."
"You have written well of me Thomas, what do you desire?"
"I desire only Yourself, O Lord."
This Advent, in our prayer, let us look at our Lord everyday, many times a day, and say, 'I desire only Yourself, O Lord.' When we say that, nothing will become clearer. That is not the magic formula to getting the answer to your discernment. But it is the solution to your peace. And we can discern nothing if we do not have peace.
When Jesus was in the boat during the storm. What did He say? In Mark's gospel, it says, "He rebuked the wind." And after you hear the gospel like today's, you'd think, 'Yikes, what was it like when Jesus rebuked something?' In the other gospel account, it says, "Jesus spoke and said, 'Peace. Be still.'" This is what He speaks to us, "Peace, be still. Stop panicking. Calm. Down. Slow down. I'm not keeping you waiting. I'm teaching you to long for me. Because if you do not long for me, you will try to satisfy yourself with something else."
During this holy season, as we are about to enter into this time, we ask our Lord Jesus for that grace, which will only come to us through prayer. So many people talk to me about their discernment, about their confusion, about their anxiety.
You say, "Well, are you praying about it?"
"Yes, Father! Yes! Of course I've been praying!"
"How? Tell me about your prayer."
"Well, you've been praying. What is your prayer? Tell me about your prayer."
"Ah-well, I-. So-sometimes, um, I. Well, I-"
"You what? What do you do? What is your prayer?"
We think we're praying, because we're thinking about it all the time. But if thinking were praying, it would not be hard to pray without ceasing. Because we are rational beings, we can't stop thinking. But thinking isn't prayer. Praying is prayer.
We need to define for ourselves our prayer. What time of day do I pray? During that time, what am I doing? What am I using to help me pray? If I have resolved to pray for 15 minutes a day, from 10:15 to 10:30, because that's when I have my coffee break at work, or that's when I have my break in between my classes, what do I do from 10:15 to 10:30? Do I try not to fall asleep? Do I twiddle my thumbs? Do I scroll through my phone?
Or do I read a chapter of the gospel and then imagine what I just read happening in my mind's eye? Do I pray the Holy Rosary? Do I do some spiritual reading? Do I quietly repeat the Jesus prayer, over and over again, to keep me still and focused? What am I doing when I pray? Am I trying to do more than I can handle - which is why I consistently fail at it everyday - and so I give up on it? And am I doing it every day? I don't know anybody who says, "Oh, I just need a little break from food today. I need a little break from sleep. I don't sleep on Saturday and Sunday because I sleep from Monday to Friday." But we do that to ourselves all the time!
We all know the story of Blessed Mother Theresa - Saint Mother Theresa - who once was asked by a very influential business man who didn't know what he was to do because he was so busy he didn't know how to pray.
"Well, sisters and I pray for one hour every morning uninterrupted in front of the Blessed Sacrament." And he laughed and said, "Oh, sister! I am too busy for that! You've got to give me something else."
"Oh, I see. Well because of your circumstances, I would recommend that you pray for two hours everyday."
We are not exempt from the need for prayer. If we think we're discerning because we're always thinking about it, we're probably only thinking about it and actually never praying about it. And if, when I ask you right now, when do you pray and what happens during your prayer, you don't know the answer to either of those questions, your prayer needs some direction. And I only know that because my prayer frequently needs some direction. To keep us dedicated. To keep us committed so that our prayer will be consistent. And when it is consistent, that is something to build upon. Nothing helps to guide our prayer more than relying on the time-honoured tradition of our Church.
Because today is the feast of St. Cecilia, I thought that it'd be fitting for us, to not just listen to me talk about praying, but to close this time by praying in song. And not just singing songs, but to chant the Psalms. So we will pray together now, Evening Prayer for the Liturgy of the Hours. I will introduce to us a very simple song tone, so that we can antiphonate, back-and-forth, from one side to the other. And let these prayers and words, Sacred Scripture and the Church, guide our minds and guide our hearts. In that way that St. Augustine says, "Let's pray twice, when we lift our voice to Him in song." And St. Cecilia, who's known to have been a majestic musician, will help us to pray well, not just tonight but always.