|For happiness I long have sought,|
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I missed for all, but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the Apple Tree
"Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" - Author Unknown
As part of the continuing Lawn Chair Catechism series on "Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus" by Sherry Weddell over at CatholicMom.com, I am joining the discussion here on "The Backs of People's Heads and Baby Faces". Take a look over at CatholicMom.com to see what we're talking about this week and feel free to drop in with your thoughts here or at CatholicMom, or even on your own blog.
I am the Queen of Introverts. Openness is really very hard for me in human situations, but even harder in spiritual ones. It's hard to be open to something you can't see or touch. And I don't think I'm alone in having a hard time opening my mind to the possibility that God might actually have something to say to me in prayer.
It's been said that familiarity breeds contempt and I think that's where many cradle Catholics find themselves in their prayer life.
Jesus is there.
Yep. Sure. Got that. Check.
But it's so much more than a checkbox. We've talked about intimate encounters with God. We've talked about the intimacy of the Sacraments and how that actually changes us. No, it's not a magic trick. but it does leave a permanent mark on our souls. I think that Catholics who look around them and see the chaos in their lives eventually realize, if they are quiet enough, that that little voice is actually God calling them to something better and deeper.
It took me almost 20 years to reconcile myself to the fact that Jesus was more than just a historical figure and God was more than a Super Cop who watched every bad thing you did and kept track. Only recently did I really come to terms with the Holy Spirit being more than just a bird or a flame. Each person of the Trinity has a distinct personality and a unique character. And I actually experience each one differently in my prayer life. But it took openness to hear that call and to know that I needed to get to know the Trinity. Personally. Intimately. And there's still so much to learn.
I have taken the past two weeks off from Lawn Chair Catechism while focusing on my jobs, but I have kept up with the discussion in my head. I considered what made me first take that initial step of trust to come back to the Church and then what made me curious enough to ask questions. The thing I keep coming back to is the Mass.
As I've said, I had a variety of different influences throughout my formative years in terms of my Catholic Faith. Some were good. Some had really wandered off the reservation. When I discovered that I could find and study church teaching and I found priests that backed it up with solid homilies and good spiritual counsel, I knew I'd struck gold. Something just rang true and I began to trust them. I listened. I considered. And when I was ready, I asked questions. But, really, until I was open to the answers I got, I never understood. That took much longer.
Trust is something that we can foster on a parish level. Kindness and gentle humor go a long way to lowering the boxing gloves people put up to protect themselves. People hate to be wrong. They hate it more than anything else in the world. That's why the customer is always right in the retail world. But when dealing with religion, not everyone can be right. Otherwise, why be Catholic?
But, pinning them to the mat for their lack of knowledge or understanding is not the way to show them that God is calling them to a closer, more intimate relationship. Treating people with charity and realizing that everyone is on a journey of their own is crucial to fostering trust within a parish.
Curiosity can be fostered through encouraging discussions and most of all through living your vocation and faith openly and well. This is something I need lots of work with. You've heard the adage: "Smile: it will make people wonder what you're up to." That's true of fostering curiosity about your Faith, too. If people see you and think, "Wow! What a happy person. I wonder why she's so happy." They will eventually ask you. When they do, it's time to speak the Truth. In fact, it's essential. Don't sugar coat it. Even if they aren't really ready to hear the truth the first time, or even the second time, don't stop answering the question. When someone at one of these thresholds asks a question, they want a real answer. Even if they don't agree, they want the Truth.
Fostering openness is a tougher nut to crack because it has to come from within each of us individually. You can't make anyone be open and forcing them can make them feel manipulated or tricked. Then all the hard work you did fostering trust is gone.
I think that openness is an act of operating Grace. It's something that God does for us. It's up to each of us to cooperate with that Grace and listen. There's nothing we can do to make it happen for anyone else but ourselves. We have to leave it in God's hands. The best way I have found to open my own heart is to spend quiet time with the Lord. The best way to help someone else with it is to pray for them. And both of them point me to Adoration.
Adoration is the single most powerful gift that God has given the Catholic Church. I have seen Eucharistic Adoration transform a parish. Parishes who foster that devotion have a much higher ratio of people who are engaged in their faith, typically. The more Adoration hours that are offered, the better the effect. I have seen parishes who were going off the rails come full circle through Adoration devotions. It's remarkable.
I only recently started going to Adoration again, though I think I always instinctively knew I needed that alone time with Jesus. When I was a teenager, I used to walk over to my parish church (which was always open) and just sit with the tabernacle. Sometimes I'd pray. Sometimes I'd sing. But most of the time, I would just sit kind of like I was soaking up the sun, not realizing that I was soaking up the Son.
As a busy adult, I forgot all about the restoration I would have by spending time alone with Jesus. But in my forties, when searching for a way to turn down the noise and open my heart to what God wants for my life, I ended up spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, exposed or unexposed, but always in silence.
So where am I now?
My life is picking up speed again, and my time for contemplative prayer is getting shoved to the side. Still, I can feel God calling me back to silence. I miss it. It's like an ache for a the company of a friend. And no other friend will do in this case. If you asked me five years ago what the biggest roadblock to my prayer life was, I'd have told you that it was time. But actually it's priority. I just have to put God first.
I've been asked by our missionary sisters to begin to study their bible courses with them. Currently, all the classes in my parish are offered in Spanish. They would like to engage the English speakers, but there is no one to lead the charge. I am still wrestling with whether or not I should jump into this. After all, I have a job within the parish as Music Director. I am very busy just juggling 5 masses and 4 employees.
Still, I can hear that voice calling. I suspect it won't be much longer that I can ignore it.