Monday, July 17, 2006

A Meditation on "Deus Caritas Est"

Trying to work through a whole encyclical is often intimidating. Father Dana , the "Prairie Priest" who blogs at "White Around the Collar" in Sioux Falls created a short meditation on the Pope's recent encyclical and has posted it for sharing:

Yesterday the parish staff here made a little retreat at our diocesan retreat center. It was a wonderfully prayerful day that brought me some much needed time to reflect.

We started the evening before with a little recreation. We had wine and cheese and alot of stories and jokes. The next day we had much of the morning for free time to enjoy the outdoors. Throughout the day we had two half-hour times for quiet prayer and adortion, two-half hour talks, the stations of the cross, confessions, and of course the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The pastor gave a talk on the apostolate of the laity and I gave a meditation using Pope Benedict's Deus Caritas Est.

A couple of people asked to have copies of it, so I thought I would let you all read it as well. Here is the text of the meditation:

I would like to begin our meditation with a quote from Deus Caritas Est by Pope Benedict XVI. He said
We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

Pope Benedict points out that we as Christians express the underlying decision of our lives when we come to a point in our lives where we can say with certainty and with all our hearts what we, you and I, have come to believe in God’s love for us. This expression is not one that we can make haphazardly or flippantly. We don’t just one day wake up and say that we have come to believe in God’s love - and really mean it. This expression has a depth that goes far beyond what many of our separated brothers and sisters would call “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.” It is not something you can just do in a momentary altar call, but something that is an ongoing reality – a journey of sorts. It goes to the very heart of our lives and is not something we just say with our mouths, it is something we say by the way we live our lives in addition to saying it with our words.

This journey to fully and completely realizing that God truly loves us, as Pope Benedict puts it “is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person.” My friends, this journey to knowing Gods love comes only through encounter with a person – the person of Jesus Christ. It is that moment or moments of encounter with Christ that give our life a decisive direction. We know this from experience. No doubt many of us went through much of our lives saying that God loves us, but it was not until an encounter with him in prayer, in the Sacred Liturgy, or even in the midst of pain and suffering, that we truly came to understand and to believe in the depths of our being and with all our hearts that God loves us, and that we are His children. And maybe you are not there yet, maybe you have yet to have that encounter with Jesus. Have no fear. Seek him out. Search after Him confident that He too is searching you out and that if you seek Him with a sincere heart you will meet Him and encounter love itself.

This decisive encounter with Christ is an encounter that should spur us on to seek an ongoing encounter with Christ. One that is continuous and lifelong – one through which we can truly live out what St. Paul has called us to do when he instructs us to “pray always”[2] This is not easy, and it comes only through living a life consistent with Gospel values. A life lived this way has a number of different characteristics, a few of which I will expound on today.

  1. A life lived in such a way that we are continually in the presence of God is one that has as its rock foundation an understanding that we are sons and daughters of God. St. Josemaria Escriva says that “Divine filiation (being Children of God) is a joyful truth, a consoling mystery…it shows us how to speak to God, to know and to love our Father in heaven. And it makes our interior struggle overflow with hope and gives us the trusting simplicity of little children. More than that: precisely because we are children of God, we can contemplate in love and wonder everything as coming from the hands of our Father, God the Creator. And so we become contemplatives in the middle of the world, loving the world.”[3]

This realization that we are indeed Children of God should move us to a profound trust and hope in God who is our Father. He will never abandon us, he will never leave us orphan, and he will give us what we need, when we need it. It should also move us to abandon all fear. If God is our Father, we have nothing to fear. Not even little rubber spiders in my desk drawer. As Pope Benedict reminds us, that children of God, “Immersed like everyone else in the dramatic complexity of historical events… remain unshakably certain that God is our Father and loves us, even when his silence remains incomprehensible.”[4]

  1. If God is our Father, then we, as His Children should spend time with Him in prayer. In recent times there has been a movement within Christian circles to make activism more important than prayer. There has crept into the lives and teachings of many an attitude of “our work is our prayer.” Now surely work can be prayer when it is offered to God, but it should never take the place of our time spent in private, personal prayer. Pope Benedict points out that “It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work…[The Christian] seeks an encounter with the Father of Jesus Christ, asking God to be present with the consolation of the Spirit to him and his work.”[5] For those of us involved in the apostolate of serving our brothers and sisters in parish work should be sure that our relationship with the Father in prayer is a priority. This is why we, as a staff have began to pray together weekly. That weekly prayer time is to remind us that we should be praying, not just together, but individually as well. We should daily be lifting up the people we serve to God in personal prayer.

  1. If we are to come to know that we are children of God through personal and communal prayer, then we should make the greatest prayer the Church offers the high point of our lives, not just in theory, but in practice. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the perfect time to lift up those we work with and those we serve in prayer, if possible, we should be doing this every day. I think, and I am sure Fr. Morgan would agree, that it would be wonderful if everyone who worked at Holy Spirit was able to attend daily Mass. I think it would make a huge difference in how we interact with each other and with the people we serve.

The Mass is the privileged place to meet Christ and to learn, at the foot of the cross, made present there, how to better love those around us. For, as Pope Benedict says “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation.”[6] This act of self oblation, or self gift is His death on the cross “in which gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form.”[7] This act of self gift is an action that we should imitate in our dealings with those we serve, so that we too, in cooperation with the Lord can raise up our brothers and sisters and lead them to salvation. We as human beings are called by our very nature to make a sincere gift of ourselves to those around us. This is most clearly seen in ones relationship with their spouse, but it also should be lived out in a similar way in our service to those who we encounter every day in our work. When we truly give ourselves to those we serve day in and day out we will be instruments in the hands of God; instruments that will help lead our brothers and sisters to heaven.

  1. So how do we live these things out on a practical level. How do we, as a result of being a child of God live out our calling to radical, self giving love?

    1. Pray. This was discussed earlier, but it is vitally important for us as people who seek to love as God loves in service to our brothers and sisters to have daily contact with God who is love. We will never be able to give love if we do not receive love in daily prayer, especially in the Holy Sacrifice.

    1. Be people of sacrifice in imitation of Christ. These little sacrifices do not need to be big. You don’t need to fast on bread and water three days a week, although I could probably use that. These sacrifices can be very simple. Here is one of my favorite quotes from St. Josemaria that some of you have heard before: “That joke, that witty remark held on the tip of your tongue; the cheerful smile for those who annoy you; that silence when you're unjustly accused; your friendly conversation with people whom you find boring and tactless; the daily effort to overlook one irritating detail or another in the persons who live with you... this, with perseverance, is indeed solid interior mortification.”[8]

We all know that there are many sacrifices that we can make every day as we work in the office. We can smile at those we don’t like. We can help those who annoy us instead of making an escape through the back door. We can not roll our eyes when “that person” calls again. We can hold our tongue instead of gossiping about this or that parishioner. All sacrifices. All things that will be real life manifestations of our love for God and those we serve.

In conclusion, Pope Benedict reminds us that God is Love, and that makes a difference. It makes a difference in our lives, and through us, in the lives of others. As we now move into a time of quiet prayer and meditation let us ask ourselves if God’s love truly does make a difference in our lives. Does his love flow through us to our brothers and sisters? How can I we do better as a group and as individuals? Then make a strong resolution about what we need to change in our lives to grow in holiness and lead those we serve to the same.

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