Love Alone: Christian Spiritual Reflection #2 (Ash Wednesday)

“We could ensure that these many pious offerings be more pleasing to God if we take time to originate them from the source, the wellspring of his love.”

PictureQuoteTeresaOfAvilaLoveAlone

This post is a follow up on the very first post I originally placed on this blog, and the above is  a quotation from that post. It seems apt to resume this discussion on Ash Wednesday as the main topic of conversation therein was how we often use spiritual practices as crutches to make us feel more secure without fully originating those practices in the Love of God. Christians tend to identify such practices with Lent more than any other time of the year as we prepare for the celebration of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

Those are the two events that reveal his love to us more than any others, and when we receive the Eucharist we receive his wounded and resurrected heart. We need to foster an awareness of the love of God as the first, foremost, most important, and in one sense (the most important sense), the only thing that matters in our lives. His love must be the beginning and the ending of everything that we do.

But how!? We always talk about love, love, love, but how often do we really live our lives as though his love is our first motivation? Certainly not often enough! I believe that God’s will for our lives, more than any plans or actions we can conceive of in our own minds, is what will guide us into a deeper experience of his love. In other words, this is not rocket science, and God never intended for his plans to be hidden from us! The conditions and events of our lives already reveal to us, even as the sun rises high in the sky at midday, the path in which God wants us to walk, the path that will guide us into a deep experience of his love for us and for all souls. How do we live the lives God intended for us in a way that is inspired by His love that dwells in us?

We must sacrifice our lives to God, offer our lives to God, give our lives to God. He has given us our life in all its particularity, in all its suffering, in all its joys, in everything about it. We must obey him and offer our lives as a sacrifice to God as our first, foremost, all-encompassing, all-engulfing, and most important intention, prayer, and spiritual practice everyday for the rest of our lives. But how!? Its one thing to say this and another entirely to do it. It seems so obvious yet so far from us. It doesn’t matter how much we say we ought to do this if we never actually do it.

In one sense the answer isn’t simple at all, but very complex. If it wasn’t complex then why have the Saints written myriad spiritual treatises on this question? However, I believe the most important path forward is a simple one, it is focused, inspiring in a way that leads to action, and doable by the grace of God.

I have come to locate the path forward in a simple prayer. This is the same prayer that we say in so many other ways, in the Our Father, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Morning Offering, the Rosary, the Mass, etc. What I have found to be helpful is locating the gist of those prayers in a prayer that speaks from the depth of my heart, a prayer that is intimately connected to my everyday experience and thus God’s will for my life, a prayer that maximizes my intentionality in such a way that inspires the acceptance and practice of God’s love. I am not saying that all of the prayers I listed above do not inspire an acceptance of God’s love, but they so often become abstracted from the deepest possible experience of meaning in our lives, things we say and do simply out of unthinking habit, spiritual practices we tend to engage in such a way that removes itself from the crux of why we are doing them in the first place. We can ensure that these prayers are more efficacious if we originate them, as they are intended to be, in a fundamental sacrifice of our lives to God, in a profound and habitual expression from the heart of our everyday experience.

It is that experience that God has asked us to offer to him: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” We must follow Christ and take up our own cross so that we might be raised as he was. There is no better time and place to offer our lives to him when we are suffering or when we are experiencing joy. We must foster an awareness of our suffering so that it does not control us and defeat us. We must constantly offer our sufferings to God or they will lead us into sin. We must also always offer our joys to Christ out of thanksgiving for his love towards us. We must foster an awareness of his blessings or they too will lead us into sin. Out of the ten lepers that Christ healed only one returned praising God and thanking him! The other nine? After having been blessed immensely by God they used the occasion to fall into grave sin, failing to return and give him the homage and thanksgiving that was due to him. What grave sin and misfortune! May God forgive us our selfish hearts that reject the suffering he transforms for us with such love on the cross, and please God forgive us too, that we so often reject the many joys that you shower upon us by your Resurrection. Like rotten children we reject his chastening and take his gifts for granted! And we wonder why we are not where we should be in our spiritual lives? We wonder why we have not achieved holiness even as we can see his hand working in our lives?

There are many prayers we could say in times of suffering and in times of joy. What I am sure of is that we must originate our entire spiritual life in the experience of our everyday, the experience that God has planned for us through his will, in our particular sufferings and in our particular joys. This must be our first and all-encompassing spiritual focus and it must flow from our deepest heart where our self inflicted wounds meet with his resurrected wounds, where they merge into one body allowing his love and mercy to gush forth from within us even as it flowed forth from his wounded side.

Here is my prayer that I try to pray, and so often fail!, in times of sorrow and suffering and in times of joy and thanksgiving:

Dear Lord, I offer you my whole life, all of my joys and all of my sorrows, to be united to your wounded and resurrected heart, for our salvation and the salvation of all souls.

It is not the prayer that is so important, the prayer just reminds me of what I am supposed to be doing with my life, giving it to God, and it helps me do that. The crucial aspect of the prayer isn’t the words but the timing. By saying this prayer intentionally in times of sorrow and joy I am fostering an awareness of God’s plan for my life, and I am praying at those important moments, so that my heart will be open to God’s love, and so that I can love God and neighbor with the love that he gives to me so freely. By doing this I am originating the importance of my spiritual life in God’s will, and thus in God’s love, for his will is loving and his heart is full. Whatever we decide to do for Lent, whatever we decide to give (positive or negative), let it originate out of a profound love for God that we continually and habitually affirm in the sufferings and joys that he gives to us in our everyday lives. Our spiritual welfare will not come from what we decide to do or the prayers that we decide to say unless what we do and say originates first in a radicalized acceptance of God’s loving will for our lives.

If we do this, when we have the chance to receive His Body Blood Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament of the alter, it will mean that we are prepared to receive him into our deepest heart. For he has allowed his heart to be pierced for our sins so that his love and mercy might gush forth from within us, as our bodies merge into his, and as our wounds become unified with his wounded and resurrected heart.

 

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