Chapter Talk Fr. Michael June 10, 2018

+UNLESS YOU LET HIM WARM YOU MORE Chapter Talk 10th of June, 2018
Fr. Michael Casagram
After an email exchange with Fr Elias, I thought to continue with a few reflections on Pope Francis’ recent exhortation Gaudete et Exultate. In it Francis has a section called “In Constant Prayer” where he speaks of how “holiness consists in a habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration.” I am reminded of Benedict telling us in his Rule that a monk is: “to guard himself at every moment from sins and vices of thought or tongue, of hand or foot, of self-will or bodily desire.” He is to “recall that he is always seen by God in heaven, that his actions everywhere are in God’s sight and are reported by angels at every hour.”
Pope Francis then quotes from John of the Cross on how we are to “try to be continuous in prayer, and in the midst of bodily exercises do not leave it. Whether you eat, drink, talk with others, or do anything. Always go to God and attach your heart to him.” So much of our life is designed precisely to bring about this continual awareness of the divine presence so that it infiltrates and transforms all that we think, do or say. The danger for any of us all day long, is to take charge of our lives, to take control rather than let grace inform all that we do. Allowing grace to govern our lives does not stand in the way of exercising our freedom which God respects at all times, but enables us to use our freedom in a way that is wonderfully creative, fulfilling our deepest longings.
To develop this openness to grace throughout the day is greatly assisted by having moments alone with God which Pope Francis, quoting Teresa of Avila describes as “nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with him who we know loves us.” We can make prayer a complicated thing and again there is a tendency in us to do this, to develop techniques that work for a time but then, all too easily, becomes routine or habit without inner content and the engagement of our deeper selves. Seeing prayer as friendly intercourse, or heartfelt conversation with God, allows it to become intimate, engaging of the whole of our lives, giving them purpose, full of vitality.
We are daily engaged in the prayer of the Church through the Divine Office but
for these Offices to become fully fruitful in our lives and the whole Body of Christ,
it is so important that we take time for personal and private prayer. In a real way
the one enforces the other, increase the depth of each other. Francis speaks of
how “contemplation of the face of Jesus.. restores our humanity, even when it
has been broken by the troubles of this life or marred by sin.” He then asks us:
“Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s
presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his
gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you
more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. How
will you then be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and
witness? If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be
healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds,
for that is the abode of divine mercy”
Here Francis is basing himself on a sermon of St Bernard on the Canticle of
Canticles. For Bernard, our hearts come alive and energized is when we immerse
ourselves in the wounds and open side of Christ. “For me,” he writes:
“whatever is lacking in my own resources I appropriate for myself from the
heart of the Lord, which overflows with mercy. And there is no lack of clefts
by which they are poured out. They pierced his hands and his feet, they
gored his side with a lance, and through these fissures I can suck honey
from the rock and oil from the flinty stone—I can taste and see that the
Lord is good.”
A little further on St Bernard goes on to say:
“If the mercies of the Lord are from eternity to eternity, I for my part will
chant the mercies of the Lord forever. But would this be my own
righteousness? ‘Lord, I will be mindful of your righteousness only.’ For that
is also mine, since God has made you my righteousness.”
This is a lot like what Ronald Rolheiser has been telling in the book, Sacred Fire,
recently being read in the refectory, about the value of affective prayer for our
lives. Through it we are able to express our deepest longing and hope from life.
Nothing so much delights the human heart as to love and to be loved. And in the
evening of life as St John of the Cross has so beautifully reminded us, this is all
that will really matters. We have only to take the time, have the nerve to honestly
express what is really going on in our lives given to God