Is it possible to offer, or even to imagine, a purer kind of prayer than that which shows mercy to one’s tormenters by making intercession for them? It was thanks to this kind of prayer that the frenzied persecutors who shed the blood of our Redeemer drank it afterward in faith and proclaimed him the Son of God.
-From the Moral Reflections on Job by Saint Gregory the Great, pope
“Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
When I made the decision to get involved with young adult ministry again after a two-year hiatus, it was with some qualms. Personality differences, musical tastes– I was able to find any and every excuse to say “no” to what was obviously a life-giving mission. Now I look back and try to imagine the past few years without the Frassati Fellowship, and I simply can’t.
But what’s most striking is how easy it’s been. No, not that sending dozens of emails, calling rounds of priests to hear confessions, standing up in front of a group of 80 people to make an announcement was easy. But I have been given the immense privilege of seeing some of the fruits of the work Frassati has done–small conversions happening every day. And I realize that in his immense condescension the Lord has given me great encouragement in letting me see these small signs of grace. What’s more, he’s shown me that they did not come about by my hand, but by his will. He shows us how our lives have purpose.
Last week the younger sister of an acquaintance took her own life. She was a beautiful, faithful Catholic woman, only in her early twenties, and her death has caused a shock wave of sadness and sympathy and prayer. Though I’d met her once only briefly, we shared a name and an illness. She has made me think anew about purpose. If Fr. Walter preaches that being an adult is knowing that your work is never done, then what follows is a deepening understanding of what your work is, an ordering of what is important. Let us help Jesus save souls. What on earth can rival this heavenly mission? Lord, I want to gather for you– I want to be gathered to you, as you wished: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!” (Lk 13:34). To be a means of evangelization, to be sent out of the Lord’s love while simultaneously being drawn further into it, this is saving, my friends, this is what it means to give every last drop. Let us pray for eyes that see opportunity, lips that are readied for preaching.
We’ve all had this experience: days, months, years later you find out that things were not as they seemed. The friend you thought was a rock was suffering greatly from mental illness, the boy you were head-over-heels for turned out to be hurtful and cruel, the acquaintance you thought was a snob turned out to be grounded and wise beyond her years. As Christians we are asked to cultivate a transparent life, but there are certain pieces that we will always keep hidden from all but the closest of friends. And everyone’s hiding, so why bother trying to rise above the intrigue? It’s like the old saying that goes something like: “Tell the truth. It’s easier to remember.” Transparency isn’t about living a boring life but a less complicated one.
So what are the things that can make life more opaque? For me the big one is gossip–no surprise there. It can lead me to second-guess people and dissemble when I’m around them. There’s also a lack of trustfulness, when I cease taking people at their word. Holding grudges and unforgiveness are big ones too. I dissemble most often when I worry what people will think of my answers to their questions. Do I dwell excessively on what other people think of me? Do I contort my representations of myself to meet what I think are their requirements or expectations?
There’s a deep longing in the human heart for intimacy, but this intimacy must be based in honesty. And if we need to be honest with people to be intimate with them, how much more do we need to cultivate an honesty with God?
This was a weekend of epiphanies (rather oddly timed, as Lent is upon us). But the epiphanies were hard-won and surrounded in dramatic incidents. One friend’s heartbreak, another’s journey to self-knowledge and a long, tough discussion about sin led to this being the most peaceful morning I’ve had in months. It’s not pain-free, since watching my friends go through difficulties isn’t easy for me to watch, and I often don’t agree with the way they handle them. But it set a sharp contrast to my whining and moping about a life that is abundantly blessed.
For the past few weeks my prayer has been difficult. I’ve been more distracted than usual, with my mind roaming all around–searching for comfort and an easy answer. If I’ve been guilty of anything lately, it’s been an odd selfishness, a feeling that I’ve given God “enough” and he ought not ask anything more of me. I’ve been fiercely protective of my time and resources. And I’ve felt entitled–oh, so entitled–to getting rewarded for my work, my “good behavior.” The thing is, holding grudges, dwelling on sadness, pitying oneself isn’t good behavior. It’s extremely destructive, and I find myself grateful that the season of purging from all that is not necessary is here.
Lord, as we prepare ourselves to enter the season of Lent, grant us simple hearts. Give us an ever greater desire for you!