August 30, 2019

The Spirit of Obedience and the Real Presence

A spirit of obedience is being renewed in the Church. It is expressed in the restoration of prayer and fasting, the restoration of marriages and of various forms of consecrated life. A growing number of parishes host perpetual adoration and lay faithful keep vigil through the night. These same parishes often have very active social ministries and a deep sense of solidarity with those most in need.  More of the faithful are going to confession and offering of acts of penance, not only for themselves, but in reparation for the sake of others. Obedience to the Holy Spirit evokes all of this and those who are docile to this new work of God in our midst are becoming instruments of hope.

Not too long ago, some assumed that Eucharistic Adoration was a thing of the past and that contemplative prayer was a waste of time. Instead, some insisted, we had to get busy with doing various social projects and pledge our allegiance to some political agenda of one kind or another. If we were not caught up in a spirit of anger and ready to accuse and condemn, we were told that we were part of the problem. What was important was the cause, whatever the cause: we should be ready to raise the barricade with righteous indignation!

But progress to what end and fight for what really?  Our consciences questioned us. How do we know whether what we were doing in the name of progress was actually the progress that the Lord desired us to make? Whether this battle was for His glory or our own? Yet, we feared to ask such questions lest we find ourselves condemned as a scribe or pharisee -- an anachronism holding back the inevitable progress that everyone else felt compelled to join.

The social teaching of the Church is a vital part of our devotion to God - for who can love God and remain indifferent to a neighbor's plight? This teaching demands moral leadership and requires that integrity be pursued on every level of life, especially in the Church. The great mystics were voices for this kind of social change. At the same time, they insisted that these same social concerns were secondary to one's own personal obedience to the Gospel of Christ. Only when I am completely surrendered to the Holy Spirit can I ever be obedient to the Gospel. Only when I allow the Holy Spirit to convict me of all my self-contradictions can He lead me into the integrity that following Christ demands.

Prayer comes first.  This is the effort to be silent enough to attend to the voice of the Lord and to allow the stirring of the Holy Spirit to move us. When it comes to rectifying social evil, even those inside the Church, before pointing my finger at others, I need to allow the Lord to heal the problems in my own heart. This means, I need to get out of my self-occupations and enter into the attentive silence in which the Holy Spirit convinces me of sin and wakes me into love. This kind of silence puts everything in second place before Him and allows Him to be sovereign over all other projects and desires. Once I have allowed Him to touch me, then I can share what He has done in me with those who most need Him, even if what they most need is His correction or rebuke. This is the logic of obedience - of listening to the Lord with the ears of the heart.

This is why mystics such as St. Teresa of Calcutta or Catherine de Hueck Doherty insisted on the importance of prayer.  If they rebuked us, it was because they suffered the rebuke of the Lord in their own prayer first. If they corrected us for our indifference, it was because the Lord had already called them out of their own lukewarmness. No one could effectively charge either of these women as having held back social progress -- in different ways, they were at the heart of the most effective social change of their generation.  It was never about programs for them or advancing a cause- it was about loving people and bringing them to salvation. The change they brought about in our communities was filled with that tender goodness of noble humanity -- they helped us remember who we are. Yet they put prayer first, and their action, they believed, flowed out of total obedience to Christ - and in this obedience was the rediscovery of the truth of our humanity.

This is why the renewal of obedience in the Church is such an important grace. Something new is happening in our midst and we can be part of it too -- if only we will humble ourselves, renounce every form of rancor from our hearts and fall on our knees. Prayer and fasting in obedience to Christ, humble prayer open to the power of silence -- the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament resounds with this power.  Here, the wellspring of adoration. In this astonished silence, the splendor of glory unfolds and our hearts are set aflame with divine love-- and through our hearts, the world.

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