July 31, 2015

Living by the Pace of Prayer

Living at the pace of prayer disposes our lives to the beatitudes of Christ Himself. What I mean by "the pace of prayer" great Catholic thinkers call "being recollected." A recollected life is the opposite of living dissipated or scattered by the many diversions that we can get sucked into.  It is also the opposite of being driven or obsessed.  Instead, it is the effort to be mindful of the presence of God, a mindfulness that requires a renewed act of faith in the Lord's presence throughout the whole day, every day, and then to live accordingly.

When we pace our lives around our awareness of the many ways the Lord discloses Himself to our faith, we discover the capacity not to over-react or to get caught up in activities that are beneath our dignity. This capacity for interior freedom in regards exterior circumstances also inclines us to be ready to recognize and act on the truth at stake in any situation, and to do so with love.  To live life at a prayerful pace in this way lifts us above the work-a-day world and relativizes the absolute demands of a demanding situation. Not in dreamy escapism or emotional distance, a prayerful life renders us intensely aware of our unfolding relationship with the Lord and, like God Himself, vulnerable to the needs of all those whom He entrusts to us.

Life then takes on the flavor of a conversation.  Living at the pace of prayer, we are always listening and waiting to recognize the presence of the Word of the Father who constantly reveals Himself anew, in the most subtle and delicate ways. When the Word became flesh, eternity broke into every moment of our lives, and is beginning all around us, in every concrete situation, no matter how humble the circumstance.  In fact, the more humble, the more wonderful His self-disclosure: always revealing the inexhaustible love of the Father and the hidden mystery of who we truly are to ourselves with unanticipated freshness.

To live with such newness and fullness is to reject intellectualizing our existence or emotional self-occupation.  Confident faith in the presence of the Risen Lord not only grounds us in reality but questions us about our whole way of life, our whole approach to everything.  When we discover His gaze of love shining at us through the circumstances of the present moment, we are free to say "yes" with the depths of our being, to welcome His astonishing presence with wonder and joy in our hearts, even when He is disguised in poverty, distress and rejection.

In this way, living at the pace of prayer, living recollected, opens us to the mystery of the Beatitudes. To be ready to show hospitality to the poor, hungry, thirsty, and meek Christ puts us on a pathway of purification, of mercy, of peacemaking, of being rejected and persecuted, just as was He.  And there is no greater beatitude than to welcome this mystery into our lives, because in this mystery, the glory of the Father, His exquisite and unvanquished love, is revealed when it is most needed, and what is most true about ourselves is, in so many unfathomable ways, at once purified and intensified.

In the 20th Century, we were blessed with many wonderful men and women of faith knew this truth not only with their mind but with their lives, from the depths of their own hearts. They chose to live by the pace of prayer when everyone around them feared to do so. One of these is Dietrich von Hildebrand, a convert to the faith who had the courage to publicly criticize Nazism even at great personal cost.

In 1938, he secretly met with a group of young adults in Florence.  He provided them conferences on how to live a transformed Christian existence even as their faith and way of life were under attack by military, political and cultural forces. The notes from these conferences were published in 1940. In English, this work is called Transformation in Christ

I have found that his words to those Christians then apply for those who endeavor to follow Christ now. In particular, his chapter on Recollection and Contemplation (see Sophia Institute Press, 1990, pp.  138-144) provides counsels that have helped me live at the pace of prayer. They might be summarized as follows:

1. Consecrate every day by a certain space of time to inward prayer.  (I have found that the beginning and end of the day are good for this -- I also like to take time before and after Mass, as well as a few minutes at 3:00pm - the Hour of Mercy.)

2. Interpolate free moments in the course of our day; moments in which we raise our eyes to God, forgetting everything for a second and experiencing his presence.

3. Resist being swallowed up by the immanent logic of our activities and of the diverse situations in which life places us. (Sometimes, the intensity of the workplace makes this more difficult, but this practice has helped me navigate difficult conversations.)

4. Shun everything that appeals to our craving for sensation.  We must guard against yielding to our idle curiosity, against cramming our mind with wanton things. (Today, our use of social media and other diversions technology makes available need to be carefully monitored and often renounced.)

5. Silence alone evokes inward calm.  Especially in important conversations, frequent intervals of silence allows "the things that have deeply impressed us" to "resound and grow in our soul, and strike root in our being."

6. Solitude is requisite from time to time because "a moment saturated with meaning, a valid 'now' requires a period of calm relaxation for taking effect." (This can be in the form of a periodic weekend retreat or even for longer periods as one's responsibilities allow).

7. Mental alertness needed for prayer requires a certain amount of sleep and simple recreation.  (In other words, we need to take care of our basic human needs or we will simply not have the energy to respond to God.)