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Sign for the times?

In the Office of Readings, we are reminded of the humanity of Jesus. Written by St. Pope Leo the Great, the champion of the hypostatic union, we are invited to see ourselves in Christ’s suffering, His death and His resurrection. St Leo writes:

“No one however weak is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ. His prayer brought benefit to the multitude that raged against him. How much more does it bring to those who turn to him in repentance.”

In these days, unprecedented in modern memory, the folly of our own efforts are laid bare. The great myth of modern man, of self-sufficiency, control, and self-determination has been revealed in all of its pretence. All of the ‘comforts’ and ‘assurances’ of our own making are likewise proven to be ineffective. In these days too, many are brought to the realization that the internet, and our fixation upon electronic devices as a substitute for social interaction, provides neither solace nor sufficient distraction. Similarly, hobbies, pastimes and interests so frequently used as a refuge to distract us from what is permanent and true, are being placed beyond our reach.

Within the Church too, this time of enforced isolation and inactivity brings challenges. Those who have, through habit, derived their identity from activity, of ‘doing’ are likely to be particularly tested. To those who require an audience for their liturgical action, the echo of the empty Church or Chapel, will be more than disconcerting. What each of these difficulties share is a definition of 'self' which is rooted in activity. That is, fuelled by the need to be seen, to be noticed, to be affirmed. This need, is, of course, rooted in emotion, not faith. Its currency is ego; not trust. It is a mindset which, if unchecked, is all too readily permitted to determine our spiritual life. It bears witness to a lack of courage. That is, a lack of courage to embrace the sacrifice which is ours by reason of the hypostatic union: a willingness to die to self. A resistance to the truth that we are not self-sufficient.

In his “Recipe for Holiness” St Pius X observed:

“The priest must set apart every day a certain time for meditating eternal truth because, as he is in the midst of the world’s seductions, he must be wary lest the snares of the infernal enemy be hidden even in the exercise of his ministry…”

In the Catechism, we read:

“In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer, and put it into practice…” [CCC 1785]

St Augustine’s definition of prayer as the raising of the heart and mind to God, is well known. Prayer is the singular act of the will to enter into an intimate relationship with Our Father in Heaven and His only son, our Redeemer. But such a resolve requires a suitable environment if it is to bear fruit. Written in 1957, Guardini’s “The Art of Praying” called for a renewed spiritual honesty. An honesty which rested upon an acceptance that – left to our own emotions- we might not be inclined to pray. Further, that this disinclination, was sufficiently subtle to generate excuses in all circumstances. The consequence of allowing our inclinations to hold sway ought to be self-evident. He observed:

“It happens over and over again that we catch ourselves frittering away the time which a moment before seemed too precious to be used on prayer…”

The commodity of ‘time’ is itself a gift from God. It cannot be replenished and, as such, must be used in a manner worthy of the gift. As a Holy Carmelite stated recently: "We must be prepared to squander our time on God". Such is the nature of Divine Mercy, that no extraordinary action is demanded of us. No good works. Instead, simple acts of faith which bear witness to our dedication and surrender to Him. By way of example: the making of the sign of Cross as an act of self-dedication. Guardini reminds us of the true character of this sign:

“It is the expression of the Christian faith and in itself an act of worship. At the same time it is something which exercises a powerful influence on man. By making the sign of the Cross, we signify our acceptance of and adherence to the New Covenant, and our absolute faith in its holy power. It is important therefore that we should rightly understand and rightly make this holy sign…”

Perhaps in our own times of difficulty, we might also embrace the sign of the Cross as an outward declaration of our utter dependence on the Lord for our true identity. It has the power to convert isolation into solitude with Him who is The Way, The Truth and The Life. It also has the power to secure for us the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that all agitation and fear may give way to a courage, perseverance, and hope. In this way, we may also find liberation; the confidence to lay aside our modern distractions and sit in silence waiting upon Him. This requires a choice; one which expresses not only our need for but dependency upon Him. This recognition may also awaken us to the gift of gratitude. With such an awakening we might in renewed hope adopt for ourselves the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins:

“Elected Silence, sing to me

And beat upon my whorled ear,

Pipe me to pastures still and be

The music that I care to hear.

Shape nothing lips, be lovely dumb,

It is the shut, the curfew sent,

From there where all surrenders come,

Which only makes you eloquent…”

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom - pray for us

St Joseph - Mirror of Patience - pray for us

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