Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fr. James's Sunday Holmily


Excessive anxiety, worry and fear rob many people of their inner peace. The stresses caused by the demands of modern life are having serious consequences on people's mental health, which in turn are having serious effects on people's physical health.

Those who suffer from a lack of inner peace due to anxiety, worry and fear quickly turn to medications to relieve their pervasive symptoms. The amount of Americans taking sleeping pills and the amount of children and teenagers taking some kind of medication for anxiety are astounding.

This Sunday's Gospel narrative provides the solution for the epidemic loss of inner peace. Martha's sister Mary, rather than being anxious and worried, sat beside Jesus and listened to him. Her actions are those of a woman of prayer.

We experience God through our life of prayer. Prayer is conversation with God. Prayer is a continual being in love because God is real and personal. No matter what might be going on in our lives, we must always pray, and pray daily. Prayer is the air that we breathe.

When I speak to you about a life of prayer, I am not referring to the mere saying of prayers. I am talking about something much deeper. There are different types of prayer. One form of prayer is vocal prayer and another form of prayer is mental prayer. There are two types of mental prayer. One form of mental prayer is meditation and the other form of mental prayer is contemplation.

Meditation and contemplation are quite different. The person who meditates usually uses the Scriptures or some other spiritual book. Contemplation does not employ any books at all. Contemplation is the prayer of the heart and not of the mind. Contemplative prayer may focus on a word or a mantra or one may simply be in the presence of God.

Martha's sister Mary knew how to go deeper. She was a contemplative. She sat in the presence of Jesus and simply listened. You do not have to live in a monastery to be a contemplative. Everyone can be a contemplative. No matter what your profession may be, everyone has the possibility of having a deep relationship with Jesus.

One of the greatest challenges that we encounter is our inability to see and to listen to God. We are caught up in the distractions of daily life that prevent us from really encountering God.
Our busy lives require refreshing times of prayer throughout the day. If we fail to incorporate prayer into our schedules, we will live our lives as if God does not even exist.
Silence is the first step that is necessary in order to embark upon the journey of contemplative prayer. We can only be with God if we can calm down our mind and be silent. During the day it is important that we take time to turn off the TV, the radio and the computer. It is necessary that we turn off the anxieties and worries flowing through our minds.
A serious life of contemplative prayer is very important for the times in which we live. The traditional structures of support that have made our lives comfortable and easy are presently engulfed in confusion, but transformation is slowly taking place. God is moving us away from clinging to things, people, and institutions. He is calling us to detachment, to the desert, to the journey into the night of naked faith. He is calling us to cling to him, and only him. This journey is difficult, frightening at times, and even risky. But, those who embark upon the journey, will be transformed into living witnesses of the God of love.

However, without the silence and solitude of daily contemplative prayer, anxiety and fear may overwhelm us. If we are a people who live truly spiritual lives, we will be filled with peace and joy no matter what may be going on around us.

St. Teresa of Avila, the famous Spanish mystic, once wrote: “Let nothing trouble you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes. God never changes. Patience obtains all. Whoever has God, wants for nothing. God alone is enough” (Poesías 30).

It is true that we are experiencing profound challenges: wars, continual threats of terrorism, the crisis unfolding within our Catholic Church which continues unchecked in many circles, the rapidly accelerating unraveling of moral decency in our society, and the terrible wounds caused by the dismantling of family life.

This may sound a bit extreme, but I have reached the conclusion that the only way that we will be able to handle the challenges of our times and the difficulties that are to unfold is through the exercise of daily contemplative prayer. This is true because contemplative prayer allows us to experience the peace that only God can give us.

What are the practical steps that we can take in order to incorporate into our busy lives daily contemplative prayer?

First of all, we need balance in our lives. We might ask ourselves when was the last time that we stopped to watch the sunrise or the sunset? Can we recall walking on the beach, enjoying the fragrance of a beautiful flower, cherishing the innocent smile of a child or gazing at the moon and the night sky filled with stars?

Again we might ask ourselves when was the last time that we enjoyed dinner with family and friends, or turned off our cell phone and refrained from checking our email at every moment?

Ours is an anxious and chaotic world. Isn’t time that we got back into balance? Excessive work and travel, excessive involvement in sports and entertainment are tearing us apart. The experience of God through contemplative prayer will restore balance and peace into our busy lives.

Secondly, contemplation requires the capacity to be alone. It is difficult to be alone in contemporary society. Even when we are alone, the noise of our own worries and fears drown out the silence of God's voice. Many people are incapable of being alone and they immediately feel an obsession to talk with someone on a cell phone or check their email.

We all need moments of solitude. Spending a quiet time before the Eucharist, reading the Scriptures during a peaceful moment at home, taking tranquil walks through the woods or along the beach all are necessary for our soul. In order to be with God, we must develop the ability to be alone with ourselves.

Thirdly, we need order in our lives. Working out daily schedules for the entire family by setting realistic priorities, and minimizing extra-curricular activities for the children are steps that we can take. Early to bed and early to rise is a wise principle which is still valid today.

However, many people will say that all of this sounds wonderful, but who has the time for contemplative prayer? Too many people are like Martha, “anxious and worried about many things”. Too many people have fallen into the terrible of trap of what I call the idolatry of work, thus making their work a complete obsession to the detriment of their families and personal health. Man was not made for work; work was made for man.

This Sunday's gospel passage allows us to reevaluate our lives. We need to set proper priorities so that deep contemplative prayer can be a daily part of our experience with God. Try it. You will be amazed at the results.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10: 41)

Recommended Reading

New Seeds of Contemplation – Thomas Merton
Contemplation – Frances Kelly Nemeck, O.M.I. and Marie Theresa Coombs, Hermit
Being in Love, A practical guide to Christian prayer – William Johnston, S.J.
Sensing Your Hidden Presence – Ignacio Larranaga, O.F.M.CAP.
Walking on Water – Anthony de Mello, S.J.

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