August 13, 2011

Freedom Needs the Truth

Yesterday we went to Padua -- Daniel captured part of our adventures here: Day Four.   In the meantime, I would like to reflect on our adventure today.  Today's experiences were a little frustrating - and at the same time overwhelmingly beautiful.  They evoked a question from me - namely:  Why do we pray?  Why is it essential to make time in one's life for prayer?

One answer pertains to our need for the truth - because this is what we seek in prayer.  In prayer, freedom, maturity and truth go together.  Growth into full maturity and freedom is only possible if we have a guiding principle for our lives.  True freedom is the freedom to give one's heart in love, to offer one's heart to another.   Such freedom needs the truth -- the truth is its guiding principle.  Truth provides spiritual sensibility.  It allows us to tune into what is truly essential in prayer and in our relationships with one another.  Without truth, freedom is doomed to betray itself, trapping the heart in the impenetrable prison of one's own big fat ego. We pray to seek the truth - the truth is the only path to the freedom to love.

One of the things one sees in both Europe and America is that many are inhibited from recognizing the radiant splendor of the truth surrounding them - have they despaired of its existence?  This is what I see in the eyes of many people we pass as we walked through the glorious beauty of Venice today.  This experience was particularly haunting on our way to venerate the remains of St. Mark, the evangelist.

Our local tour guide tried to explain what we were seeing in the Basilica of San Marco after our community mass in one of the side chapels.  But I am not sure she saw it or fully realized what she was trying to explain to us.  It was obvious that she had been taught to contemplate the building with secular eyes.  She tried to ignore it when our men went to their knees before the bones of St. Mark to ask for his intercession and out of devotion to Christ.  Instead she was intent on explaining the Pala d'Oro behind the relics.  She was so intent to explain its craftsmanship (it is exquisite!) and the history behind its production that she seemed almost unaware of the beautiful mystery it was depicting and why this sacred art should be placed so close to the bones of the evangelist.   She had, at least for this presentation, lost her spiritual sense and was not really in touch with those who had hoped she could guide.

Without her spiritual sensibility, the truth standing out in radiant clarity before her could not be recognized, the truly essential could not be voiced.  Now this is something many of us do from time to time and I do not think Italians are more prone to this than any other group of people.  Yet the incongruity of offering purely secular observations to a group of pilgrims on a quest for spiritual truth has been with me all day - it illustrates a particular poverty that afflicts contemporary culture.

There is an emptiness in the eyes of more and more people - sometimes it lurks behind avarice and caprice, sometimes resentment.  Our priests and seminarians were even sneered at on a few occasions as we walked through the streets.  What is going on?  Could it be that weighed down by purely material values anything that witnesses to the possibility of something better suited to the human spirit is provoking?  Those who do not know God and who have not dedicated themselves to prayer must also experience moments of joy and even moments of meaning -- moments that make them question whether they should doubt their faith in the merely material to satisfy.   Even so, meaning, truth, harmony, mediation - this is elusive, sometimes to the point of evading all recognition even as it stands before us.  In the Church of San Marco, the Risen Christ radiates his presence in thousands of artistic creations and objects of devotion arrayed to adorn a house of prayer fit for worship of the living God - yet He goes unrecognized in the midst of such splendor.

Christ is the truth, the life and the way.  He is the life principle by which those who believe in him live.  He is the Word, the Logos, the Mediator of truth from God to the hearts of men and the truth of men to the Heart of God.  He is Divine Reason, Perfect Harmony, Pure Beauty. Maturity and freedom are stunted because when this Truth is not seen.  How strange it is not to see the One from whom all things come and to which all things flow.   We must seek and strain to find.  We must knock.  We must ask for the Truth who longs to give Himself.  Freedom needs this Truth to grow and maturity needs full human freedom to be realized.   So in our prayer, we must seek the Truth and when we find Him, allow our minds to rest in Him, to dwell in Him - in this way, whether we are in an ancient sanctuary where the bones of apostles and prophets or in city streets seeing the sadness revealed in the eyes of strangers -- we will find Him who searches for us even more.