September 30, 2009

Spiritual Trials

Today is the feast of St. Jerome - a saint noted for his hot temper.  For those of us who struggle with a more or less sanguine emotional life, it is always consoling to discover that we are not alone, that even great saints had to deal with irrascibility.  Self-control and gentleness are fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  I think it provides extra glory to God when He is able to produce this fruit even though our personalities seem to fight against it.  The witness of the saints is that only through prayer do we learn to surrender ourselves so that the power of the Holy Spirit is manifest in our weakness.

Anthony Bloom wrote a book called Beginning to Pray and this book has some great advice about how to start a life of prayer.  At one point, he relates a story about one of my favorite saints, Philip Neri.  This youth minister who renewed the Church of Rome by starting a prayer group in the 16th Century was given a great grace as a young man.    He noticed that he had a very hot temper, especially when provoked by some of his brothers.  So he prayed for an intense length of time, asking the Lord to help him overcome his anger.  Immediately after his prayer, he ran into the one brother with whom he never fought and this brother insulted him out of no where.  They got into a horrible fight.  Then, after this exchange, a similar thing happened with another brother.  Philip was dismayed and returned to prayer to complain, "Lord, didn't I ask you to free me from anger?"  The Lord patiently responded, "Yes, that is why I am multiplying the opportunities for you to learn."

Anthony Bloom explains why this is not an uncommon experience in prayer.  We do not have the space to explore his explanation further.  For today, we will simply note the Lord answers us when we ask for good things the right way.   His answers, however, are always different from what we anticipate.  We do not always recognize the gifts He floods us with because our vision is limited by our own expectations.  For those of us a little hot blooded, coming to appreciate how wonderful it is that God does not allow himself to be confined to our expectations is a first step to true spiritual freedom.