Thursday 19 January 2017

THIS I KNOW: A Child's Gift Of Prayer

The church stood alone in the middle of nowhere and, on a bleak January day, it looked fairly wretched and worn. The inside felt cold and inhospitable. It was hard to settle. The people gathered for the baptism milled around talking, hesitant to sit for fear of being gripped by the chill.

I noticed a little boy standing in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin. He was mesmerized by the shimmering of the votive lights burning there.

"They're moving" he said to me.
"They do that" I replied and explained that people say a prayer when they light a candle. "Would you like to light one and say a prayer?" I asked.
"I would!" he said.
"Do you know any prayer?"
"I know this one", and he proceeded to say the prayer 'Jesus Loves Me this I know for the Bible tells me so,' It went from recitation into song! Beautiful!
"Would you say that prayer during the Baptism?" I asked. He said he would and his little brother standing near said "I know it too!" So I said he could say it as well.

When the time for the prayers of the faithful came during the ceremony I invited the two boys up and the other children as well. Some were too shy but a nice number gathered at the altar while we listened to the pure praying of the two boys. It warmed the hearts of everyone and the bleak cold was dispelled. We were graced by innocence and by joy.

Afterwards I told the mother of the boys how impressed I was and she told me that it was their father who taught them. He prays with them every night when they go to bed.

Two things caught my attention on the following day. The two are linked. The first is the request of Pope Saint John Paul II in Limerick in 1979 when he said, "Your homes should always remain homes of prayer. As I leave today this island which is so dear to my heart, this land and its people which is such a consolation and strength to the Pope, may I express a wish : that every home in Ireland may remain, or may begin again to be, a home of daily family prayer. That you would promise me to do this would be the greatest gift you could give me as I leave your hospitable shores." 

The second is the call of all baptized Christians to share in the priesthood of Christ. The father of these two boys is fulfilling both. By teaching his children to pray he is expressing the priesthood of Christ, the fatherhood of God and has given us an example to follow. He blesses all of us, allowing his children to be shoots of new life in our midst, pointing to a new springtime of hope and faith that is realized in the nurturing of the Christian spiritual dimension of our lives.

We neglect the importance of our own Baptism, forgetting that we were claimed for Christ to belong to Him forever and marked with the indelible seal of the Spirit. Neglecting this spiritual reality we live unbalanced lives and often go out looking for other things to give what is already within us by the gift of God in Jesus.

There's a very interesting example of this in Graham Greene's 'The End of The Affair'. Sarah was an atheist - living as though she were not baptized - all of her life until she found herself as an adult being mysteriously drawn to the Catholic Church when she became ill. And after she died people were shocked to discover that she had been baptized as a child, though she herself did not know it. "Graham Greene seems to make a case for the mystical and inescapable fact that baptism has made her God’s. She has been sealed." (Elizabeth Charlotte Grant)

And perhaps this is our hope, that what was given to us in Baptism as babies will ultimately win over all the other forces that drive us through life; that we will finally experience what Jesus Himself experienced in Baptism - the definitive knowing that we belong to God as His beloved daughters and sons, allowing that reality to be the force that forms and shapes our way of being and living in this world, preparing us to live it eternally in heaven.

Monday 9 January 2017

We Hold This Treasure: Living Family Retreat Sligo 2017

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 
(2 Corinthians 4:6-10)

I’m a fan of Leonard Cohen and like his song ‘Anthem’ which has a line that says, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
It’s like what we read in 2 Corinthians, except Paul tells us that the light is already within us. We are the earthen vessels that contain the radiant light of Jesus, a light that goes out from us through the cracks, the broken, vulnerable areas of our lives.
As committed Catholics, we often have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, an idealized idea of how our lives should be, whereas what we are called to do is to face the reality that we are experiencing and find Jesus who is present within that reality.
In preparing for this day I went to the Carmelite monastery in Delgany to try to hear what God was saying in the sheltered silence there. My attention was drawn to the crib, a very deep crib that made me want to crawl in there like a child and rest near the manger with Jesus.
When we enter into the crib in spirit and ponder it we discover that it is a most imperfect place for the birth of a child. How distressing it must have been for Mary and Joseph, that they could not find a more suitable place for the birth of Jesus.
The interior of the crib is also a messy, dirty place that is somehow deliberately chosen by God to tell us that He makes His home in the unacceptable, chaotic places of our hearts and homes. He is born there to make a difference, to bring salvation and redemption to the mess that is our life.
Beyond the stable into exile and then settled in Nazareth, the Holy Family continues to be for us an icon of the perfect life of the Trinity and a model of family life for us.
Just as every single person is created in the image and likeness of God, so every family is created in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity. Our eternal destiny is to become the perfect love that we see in God, relationships that mirror the perfect relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There will always be tension between the imperfect reality and the ideal to which we aspire, a tension that brings pain and suffering.

I brought my three nieces to see the movie Ballerina during the Christmas holidays. Roisin, who is 26, is co-minder with me and her two cousins Katie and Laura are 8 and 6 respectively. It's a good story that tells of an orphan girl who has a dream of becoming a ballet dancer, a dream that leads her to escape from the orphanage and her arrival at a school of dancing in Paris.

One of the instructions of the dancing teacher is that, in order to become a great dancer, she needs to dance with the passion that is within her, to even put her anger into her dancing. Sometimes we are afraid of the passion that is within us, afraid of the passion and anger that  is present in a child. But it needs to find its expression rather that its repression for the sake of the health of the child as well as of the whole family.

The distinctive gift of faith in each child also needs to be nurtured and find its expression. Both younger nieces clearly believe in God and, for Laura that belief doesn't seem to occupy her mind too much, whereas it seems to occupy Katie's quite a lot.

We were in town to see the lights which were beautiful, especially down the Latin Quarter of Galway. And then I brought them to the Augustinian Church to pray for a very short while. Laura is happy to light loads of candles for her Dad at the statue of St. Rita because I told them their Dad's birthday is also the feast of St. Rita. After that she just wanted to run about.

Katie takes everything in, expressing particular interest in the altar where the picture of the Mother of Good Counsel is. 

"What does that mean?" she asked. "She's the Mother who gives good advice and tells you the right thing to do" I said. "And how does she do that?" she asked. "She probably gets an angel to come and whisper it to you" I answered, "You don't hear a voice but you know what is the right thing to do!"

With that she knelt and prayed fervently while the rest of us looked on. I didn't ask what she  prayed for because that belongs to her and I think it's important to respect what goes on the the heart of a child in prayer. And it's also important that I don't expect Laura to have the same kind of fervour. Each child has a unique way of praying.
An interesting thought came to me about Jesus, something I never adverted to before. He is the most perfect child ever and yet He broke the hearts of His parents, Mary & Joseph, when He went missing in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52). You know what it’s like to lose your child even for a very short time, the pain that it brings to your heart.
You can hear the pain in the heart of Mary, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
A child necessarily breaks the heart of parents, not out of malice but simply in the process of becoming who he or she is meant to become. It is the seed that must break open and break out of its shell.
And it’s important to let grace have its time, to do its work in its own time and not in ours. We have a natural tendency to want hurt and pain to be healed immediately but sometimes we have to let the suffering take its course, trusting that grace will have its way in the end. Suffering is part of the development and sanctifying of every family. We attend to the suffering, minister to it and wait with it in Jesus.
Something that has helped me in dealing with my own inner chaos is the very beginning of the Book of Genesis. When God created the heavens and the earth there was darkness over the face of the deep, a formless void, a chaos and the spirit hovered over it all and the voice of the Father spoke the Word who is Jesus, calling light out of the darkness, order out of the chaos.
In the face of my own chaos I ask the Holy Spirit to hover over it so that I might be recreated, ordered by the Word of the Father. We can ask the same Holy Spirit to hover over our families to bring grace, order and light in whatever way we need it.
Like Mary at the annunciation when the Spirit of God came upon her and the power of the Most High covered her with shadow, so it becomes a personal experience for us and for our families – the same Spirit, the same shadow of the Most High, the same Jesus. This reality is within us in earthen vessels - it is the glory of God, the power of God – and we need go no further than ourselves and our homes to find it.
(The experience of God is often an experience of His shadow - see ‘SHADOW: An Ascended Place of Rest’)
Fr. Eamonn Monson SAC, Living Family Retreat, Sligo January 7, 2017

Sunday 8 January 2017

TOTALLY YOURS (A Prayer With No Ego)

Totus Tuus
Jesus Christ

Is everything

Alpha and Omega
Beginning and End

Apart from You

In You
All find
Their home

It is Your Face
O Lord...hide not
Your Face

Glory be

To the Father
The Son and
Holy Spirit

Totally Yours