Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The great adventure of going from absence to living presence and what God has to do with us in it all - by Hubert de Maigret

In the "New Covenant" made by our Creator God with humanity (Jeremiah 31:31-34) every person can know God from within - because the Holy Spirit is revealing our Creator to all who are willing to know the Lord and trust in Him. We can still help each other along the way; so may you be pleased to find here a variety of helps to the life of faith in God through Jesus Christ. G.S.

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Prayer: from absence to the living presence

Prayer is difficult. Why? It’s that God seems absent.

In a world where one thinks in terms of productivity, efficiency, activity, evidence, there is no room for the invisible and silent God. His immaterial presence cannot be grasped. Christ himself, “God with us”, dead and resurrected, has passed into the world of the invisible and of transcendence. We would want to seize him, to make him ours; he eludes us.

Men struggle and suffer; God seems indifferent and deaf. Besides, God is eternal, non temporal, beyond time. His mystery frightens us; praying seems to us to leave the realm of time, to escape the human condition and a waste of time. So it’s better to act, to run….

Absence of God…. He is absent from your life, from our heart. When we try to pray, we meet no one…. And we walk, sad, along the road, like the pilgrims to Emmaus. Fleeing pilgrims; like them. We flee ourselves; we throw ourselves headlong into activity; which spares us from SITUATING OURSELVES before God, from thinking of our human condition, about what we are, where we come from, where we are going. We flee the Father’s house, like the prodigal son who goes off to spend all he has without knowing why.

But, if God is absent from our heart, it is we who are absent, far from him. For he, like the “Father of the Parable (Luke 15:20), is there and waits for us every day: “I raised and brought up sons, but they rebelled against me.” (Isaiah 1:2). He is always present; and Jesus came to announce to us his presence: “The Kingdom of God is very near.” (Mark 1:15). Kingdom of God means loving presence of God in our midst and within us. But between him and us, there is a wall, a locked door: it is our heart, our heart slow to believe.

God is absent from our heart: and we blind ourselves, either to affirm that it is impossible to approach him, or to affirm that he is already present with us, all with a good conscience which spares us having to convert ourselves. One way like the other, it is impossible for us to pray in truth.

But Christ came for a “judgement”, to make clear what was hidden, unconfessed, “so that the blind may see and so that who see may become blind”. He says to us: “If you had been blind, you would be without sin, but you say “we see”, your sin remains.” (John 9:41-42). And in effect we remain in our sin, in the practical refusal of God in us, and of his Kingdom.

There is a moment where all can change. “Nothing is more intolerable to man than to be in complete rest, without passions, without business, without entertainment, without application. Then he feels his nothingness, his abandonment, his insufficiency, his dependence, his powerlessness, his emptiness. Incontinent, he pours out from the depths of his soul anxiety, darkness, sadness, grief, despondency, despair.” (Pascal, Pensées, no. 224).

“All of men’s evils come from a single thing, which is to know not to be at rest in a room.” (Pascal, Pensées, no. 232 a). I must accept to STOP, before my self and the invisible God, and allow what I am to rise to the surface. I must become aware of the absence of God in my heart, and of my sin. Then I become capable of praying.

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At that moment, I am poor, a sinner, a paralytic, a blind person from the Gospel, and I cry: “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner! If you wish, you can heal me!” Christ came to take that poverty, mine, and with mine, that of all men; for my poor pleading prayer isn’t only mine, it is that of all sinners, which arises within me towards God. It becomes at the same time intercession for all men. And God, apparently absent, is then within me as a call, as a cry. It is the Spirit who cries within me: “Father!” it is Christ on the cross who cries within me: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mt 27:46)

And so I learn to cry, as the newborn baby learns to use his voice by crying and screaming: his cry calls his mother, and it is in his cry and the presence of his mother bending over him, that he learns that his relationship with her, it is his life. And so it is for us with God. Only, we must accept to “be born anew” (John 3:3), accept to “become again as little children”, and to begin again to live differently, in dependence on the One who gives life. It is the condition for entering into the Kingdom of God (Mathew 18:3).

I well know that certain psychologists will object that this practical faith, so humble, is nothing but an infantile and comforting capitulation… I cannot reply directly to them in the context of this article. However the blind man of Jericho, (Mk 10:47), the publican in the temple (Luke 17:13), the forgiven sinful woman (Luke 7:34), did not ask themselves the question in those terms: the one who is in the night cries toward the one who is in the light, the sinner cries to the Holy One who forgives and purifies, the thief on the cross calls to Jesus for help and dies in the hope of a new life, while his companion dies in despair (Luke 23:42). In a word, faith is a matter of life or death: when we die, we TURN towards the One who IS LIFE, with a foolish hope.

That is why we wait for him, we look for him during the night; we learn with our misery to cry out to him, knowing that the cry of our heart, he hears it before it reaches our lips, but he waits for it before responding, as he waits for our glance which looks for him, our fist which knocks: “Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you!” (Luke 11:9). And so it is that with all the praying and hoping our heart will open up to God and become prayer. “Find the door of your heart, said Saint John Chrysostom, and you will find the door of the Kingdom.

But speaking like this to God will teach us by and by to keep quiet before him, to find the right word that will express our whole self. To speak to God, one mustn’t say just anything, one must “be oneself” more than speak; “Tell him what you are”, Saint Augustine said. And for that, silence will become necessary for us.

And so, rather than always trying to express ourselves, we will come to listen within us to what he says to us by his revealed word. The silence of his absence will become the setting for his presence: “We keep quiet before listening, because our thoughts are already directed towards his message, as a child is quiet before entering into his father’s room. We keep quiet after having heard the word of God, because it resounds, lives, and wants to find a home in us. We keep quiet on rising in the morning and on going to bed at night, because the first and the last word of the day belong to God.” (Bonhoeffer, “La vie communautaire”, ch. III, p. 78, Ed. du Cerf – « Life Together » Harper ed. pages may vary).

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Our eyes finally open to a new light, our ears become able to hear his word: “who is of God hears God’s words” (John 8:47), because we begin to be reborn in God, “engendered by the word of truth” (James 1:18).

In prayer we will learn to become disciples of the Word. By and by, through the Word, God will come alive for us in his Christ: it will enlighten our days; all our relations will be transformed as Christ looks on, living Word of God, and by the action of his Holy Spirit “who will remind you of all that he had said” (John 14:26). “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples; you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32).

But for this, we must, like the Virgin Mary, learn to keep the Word in the silence of our heart. “That we have to learn to keep quiet, in an age where we give the greatest importance to chatting, is for each person to discover, and in this domain, only the spiritual act of silence can bring about a positive result. Silence observed before hearing the word of God will have its effect on the whole day. It will teach us to live while weighing our words…. A Christian’s silence is a silence full of attention, humble, and which because of its humility, accepts to be interrupted. It is connected to the word. “No one speaks with greater assurance than the one who can keep quiet. There is in silence power of clarification, of purification and of understanding what is essential…. We thus avoid much uselessness. And then it is in few words that we can utter, at the right moment, the word which matters and helps. (Bonhoeffer, “La vie commun. p. 78-79.)

If we learn to keep quiet to listen to God, we will also learn to listen to others, and to hear in them what God says to us. We will learn to hear their calls and their questions, to help them to also listen to his word of mercy and to rediscover the door of their heart where God dwells.

Thus prayer will by and by bring us from the darkness into the light. It will take us where we are, as low as we may be, if we recognize ourselves as sinners. In prayer, the Holy Spirit will make in us “a new heart, a new spirit” (Ezekiel 36:26), a new sight. We will become those poor in the Gospel to whom the Kingdom is given who wait to be saved.

Prayer will bring unity to our life: drawing us to God, it will send us out to men to save them, and in everything and everywhere we will live Christ. And by and by we will live the Gospel on the street today, as a priest worker said.

Prayer is a way of life, where we journey day after day, step by step, wherever we are, in the rhythm and vitality of walking and breathing; on which path the Eucharist and fraternal communion will give us the strength to PERSEVERE and to bear fruit, for we walk there with others, with the Church and all her members, animated by the Spirit “who animates the children of God” and “who comes to help our weakness” (Romans 8:14, 26).

“Who perseveres to the end will be saved.”

Every day we must have A TIME of silent and solitary prayer, so that all time may be enlightened and animated by prayer. There needs to be a time of silent interior prayer, lest we deserve this reproach from the Lord: “This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

Solitude in prayer requires that we personalize our prayer; but we must also, often, pray in groups, “in Church”: it is the sign that all prayer – being communion with God – is also communion with all the children of God, and with all men who seek Christ; this prayer in common also realizes and manifests, in a special way, the presence of Christ: “There, where two or three gather in my name, I am there, among them.” (Matthew 18:20).

Hubert de Maigret, moine de Fleury, Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire

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In the "New Covenant" made by our Creator God with humanity (Jeremiah 31:31-34) every person can know God from within - because the Holy Spirit is revealing our Creator to all who are willing to know the Lord and trust in Him. We can still help each other along the way; so may you be pleased to find here a variety of helps to the life of faith in God through Jesus Christ. G.S.

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© 2006-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2006-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC
 

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Praying with Sacred Scripture – the Living Word of God – is a path of love

In the "New Covenant" made by our Creator God with humanity (Jeremiah 31:31-34) every person can know God from within - because the Holy Spirit is revealing our Creator to all who are willing to know the Lord and trust in Him. We can still help each other along the way; so may you be pleased to find here a variety of helps to the life of faith in God through Jesus Christ. G.S.

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PDF - Intro             
PDF - Take some steps   

GOD SPEAKS TO US FIRST


This fundamental truth makes it possible for us to pray to God. God has been concerned for each of us long before we became concerned for ourselves.

God desires communication with us, speaks to us continually,

Ø  through Jesus Christ, His Word;

Ø  through the Church, the extension of Christ in the world (because we are joined together in Christ, God speaks to us through other people);

Ø  through visible creation around us, which forms the physical context of our lives. (Creation took place in the Son, and it is another form of God's self-revelation);

Ø  through the events of our lives;

Ø  through Holy Scripture, a real form of the Divine presence. This is the mode of communication we are most concerned with in prayer.


GOD INVITES US TO LISTEN

Our response to God's initial move is to listen to what God is saying. This is the basic attitude of prayer.


HOW TO GO ABOUT LISTENING

What you do immediately before prayer is very important. Normally, it is something you do not rush into. Spend a few moments quieting yourself and relaxing, settling yourself into a prayerful and comfortable position.

In listening to anyone, you try to tune out everything except what the person is saying to you.
In prayer this can be done best in silence and solitude. Select a favorite passage from Holy Scripture, 5 to 10 verses. Put a marker in the page. Try to find a quiet place where you can be alone and uninhibited in your response to God's presence. Try to quiet yourself interiorly. Jesus would often go up to a mountain alone to pray with the Father.

In any age of noise, activity and tensions like our own, it is not always easy or necessary to forget our cares and commitments, the noise and excitement of our environment. Never feel constrained to blot out all distractions. Anxiety in this regard could get between ourselves and God.

Rather, realize that the Word did become flesh and speaks to us in the noise and confusion of our day. Sometimes in preparing for prayer, relax and listen to the sounds around you, God's presence is as real as they are.

Be conscious of your sensations and living experiences of feeling, thinking, hoping, loving, wondering, desiring, etc. Then, conscious of God's unselfish, loving presence within you, address God simply and admit: "Yes, you do love life and feeling into me. You do love a share of your personal life into me. You are present to me. You live in me. Yes, You do."

God is present as a person, in you through the Spirit, who speaks to you now in Scripture, and who prays in you and for you.

Ask God the grace to listen to what the Spirit says. Begin reading Scripture slowly and attentively. Do not hurry to cover much material/ If it recounts an event of Christ's life, be there in the mystery of it. Share with the persons involved, a blind man being cured. Share their attitude. Respond to what Jesus is saying. Some words or phrases carry special meaning to you. Savor those words turning them over in your heart.

You may want to speak or recite a Psalm or other prayer from Scripture. Really mean what you are saying.


When something strikes you,

Ø  you feel a new way of being with Christ, who becomes for you in a new way

Ø  you experience God's love

Ø  you feel lifted in spirit

Ø  you are moved to do something good,

Ø  you are peaceful

Ø  you are happy and content just to be in God's presence.


This is the time to ..... pause.

This is God speaking directly to you in the words of Scripture. Do not hurry to move on. Wait until you are no longer moved by the experience.

Do not get discouraged if nothing seems to be happening. Sometimes God lets us feel dry and empty in order to let us realize it is not in our power to communicate with God or to experience consolation. God is sometimes very close to us in seeming absence (Ps 139:7-8), is for us entirely in a selfless way, accepting us as we are, with all our limitations -- even with our seeming inability to pray. A humble attitude of listening is a sign of love for God, and a real prayer form the heart.

Spend time in your prayer just being conscious of God's presence in and around you. IF you want to, speak with God about the things you are interested in or wish to thank God for, your joys, sorrows, aspirations, etc....

SUMMARY 5 P's

Ø  Passage from Scripture

Ø  Place

Ø  Posture

Ø  Presence of God

Ø  Passage from Scripture

Read aloud or whisper in a rhythm with your breathing  - a phrase at a time - with pauses and repetitions when and where you feel like it. Do not be anxious, do not try to look for implications or lessons or profound thoughts or conclusions or resolutions, etc. Be content to be like a child who climbs into its father's lap and listens to his words and hist story. When you finish, remind yourself that God continues to live in you during the rest of the day.
 
-Armand M Nigro, S.J. & John F Christensen, S.J.


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Some online Bible and Bible Commentary resources  

RESSOURCES EN FRANÇAIS - If you are comfortable in French, here is a web link which could bring you to some interesting resources.  Once you go there, you can go to the Bible, teachings, and Scripture commentaries – very helpful and nourishing for the spirit! Allez voir: Catholiens    

ENGLISH RESOURCES: For your own reading of the Bible, the most recommended places to start are the Gospels of Matthew (written for Jews) and Luke (written for Greeks). In late Fall you can start with the first few chapters that relate to the advent of Jesus' birth, or in late winter or early Spring you can start with the events leading to Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. You can also start at the beginning and go from there. If you have a bible like the Jerusalem Bible, you can follow the excellent references in the margins to lines in the Old Testament that are directly connected. You can go to those lines and see how Jesus was conscious of the texts in the Jewish Scriptures which were about Him because they were prophecies about the coming of the Messiah promised by God. 

You can find the Bible in several translations online – here is a link to the interesting one used at Mass in Canada for Catholics NRSV Catholic

OTHER RESOURCES: 

(1) Study Light tools: Catholic Bible Commentary 
            (2) St. Paul Center: 
Sunday Bible Reflections 
            (3) Dr. Scott Hahn: 
Study Tools 
            (4) Agape Bible Study: 
Sacred Scripture Study Guide & Bible Study Menu 

Another way to pick Scripture texts for prayer in a meaningful way is to take some of the texts that touched you at Sunday Mass (you can get the Sunday Missal with the readings for the year) and look them up in the Bible.  Then you can see what comes before and after the text that was selected for the Mass.  You may find something you want to read more closely.  The bigger context often helps understand the part that was selected.  

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        One simple way to pray with Sacred Scripture, the Word of God 

Using an online Bible, a paper Bible, or Scripture texts in the Living With Christ: 

1.       There you are with the text on your lap. 

2.       You say, out loud if you're alone, otherwise inside your spirit: "OK Lord, here we are - you and me and your words which you inspired so long ago.  I'm going to read them over slowly a few times.  Please let your Holy Spirit - who inspired them to begin with in the hearts and imaginations of those men and women - to inspire in me the understanding and connections you want to give me.  I'm open, I put my trust in you, and I’m ready.

3.       Just sit there a moment in quiet, and let the "waters" of your spirit become a bit more still.  Your eyes might wander out the window, your imagination might wander off somewhere....  until you notice your spirit get peaceful.  At that point, everything might feel ever so natural - that's great - or the peace may be so deep that you may be impressed by it all - that's great too.  Either way, or even if you feel differently, it's fine.  What matters is a bit more peace than when you start - your mind might be racing, your heart might be excited, worked up, or concerned, but your deep inner spirit will at least have a sense "Hey, I want to be here, and I'm glad I'm here. I want to get into this."  That's all you need because God is always ready to do his part.

This 3rd step is simply about relaxing a bit before diving into the text; so don’t worry about feeling anything, but simply try to relax and trust in God to guide you. In time, the effects of your prayer time in your spirit will develop some kind of pattern or familiarity, and you will begin to notice that the sum total of the effects is bigger than what you yourself are doing - it's like 2 + 2 = 15!  The little steps you're taking result in a bigger effect than you would expect. The difference is God's work in your spirit. He works gently and quietly, deep down in the deep waters stirring in your soul. It's his domain. He's at home there, and when we trust Him, we give Him permission to do all He wants for us. 


4.     
Then you're ready to start reading your Gospel verses.  Slowly.  Once.  Twice.  Three times.  Like licking an ice cream cone.... over and over and over.... At some point you really get full of the "taste" of it, and your mind and heart begin to make connections - with life, your youth, other people, your hopes, your fears, all kinds of stuff.  It's your stuff.  It might seem to be other people's stuff, but it's really about your part of it, because you're the one who's doing this, and it's you that the Lord wants to be with in this moment. Just go with the flow.

5.       If connections happen, feel free to let your spirit talk to the Lord about it, very spontaneously.  "Hey, that was really nice!  Thank You!"  or "Ouch!  That was a very painful experience - the memory still hurts!  I really felt alone there; so, where were You?"  etc.  etc.  Did you know that the Old Testament book of Psalms is a collection of 150 prayers what basically got composed exactly like this - with the composer praying and reacting to God out of what they were experiencing at the time?  Some of them actually are about being upset with God - imagine - and it's now an inspired part of God's Word!  He really likes us to open our heart to Him with complete honesty.

6.       Since praying with the Scriptures is supposed to be a dialogue, if you do get to the point of making remarks to the Lord, in your spirit, then it's a good and polite thing to give Him a chance to answer you somehow. Nobody likes being with someone who talks but doesn’t listen. Centuries of men and women praying like this hundreds of times has shown us that God is a great personage but He's got lots of time.  He usually isn't in a hurry. 


What happens as you pray with Sacred Scripture, the Word of God?



So we must be willing to wait for Him to give us whatever impressions He wants to give – in our mind, heart, soul, imagination, memory, even in the body sometimes (warmth, peace, thrill, love, etc.) – or He may awaken our own feelings that we buried when we couldn't deal with them.  Now we are able to deal with them because we're not alone. 

Since we began by letting ourselves be in God's presence, then He really is with us, and we can let Him guide our spirit along the path of the memory, or whatever is happening, and this little "walk" will bring something new: more peace, or resolution, or healing, or simply the realization that it's time for me to do something which has been put off long enough.  When anything like that happens, just acknowledge it, and put it aside for now, and continue with your prayer experience.  Later, when you get up, you can pick up that thought again, ask God to guide you, and in freedom decide what to do about it, when, how, and so on.  This segment is about giving God a chance to respond to us.

7.       In time you can learn to notice God’s response and you just react in an honest way. Thank you. No way Jose! I'm not ready for that now; maybe tomorrow. Thanks for bringing it up, but please remind me again when You think I'm really ready. For now, let's put it on the back burner and let it simmer for a while. OK? And so on like that…

8.       None of this may happen and you will probably get the impression that nothing is happening at all. Resist such hasty conclusions. Remember, we're a hasty bunch, always in a hurry, but the Creator of the Universe isn't. He knows us better than we know ourselves. It's really about learning, in time, to put our trust in Him. If we notice some benefits, that's a bonus. You can't notice a tree growing taller, but when you come back a year or ten years later, you can see the difference. It's a bit like that in terms of our spirit. We don’t see ourselves grow.

9.       Everybody who prays often struggles with “distractions” or “temptations” or “wandering thoughts or images” or any number of other unexpected “developments” or “intrusions” during their prayer time. This is normal and it also is simply the discovery of what our minds, hearts, and spirits are really like. Like the atmosphere and oceans we have “a lot of currents” flowing all the time but generally don’t notice because we tend to “surf on top” and ignore the rest. When you drive you can notice the scenery passing by but you keep your eyes on the road. It is like that with prayer. Just acknowledge the “scenery” passing by and remain focused on “visiting with God”.

10.   We cannot avoid facing the “enemy of mankind” – the bad desires or impulses in ourselves, the bad influences all around us, and interference by the devil and other bad angels. In time we come to recognize “the enemy” which tries to discourage and distract us from getting closer to God, paying attention to God, obeying God, and coming to love God. You can learn more about “the discernment of spirits” from Fr. Timothy Gallagher ovm.

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Well, hopefully this will give you a doorway into the Word of God, and remember – it doesn't have to be painful – you're allowed to enjoy this! So have fun! I join you in prayer for peace in the love of God, for you and your family. As you make use of the gift of faith God offers, you can expect the joy of finding that God is good and even “tastes good”.

The more we put our trust in the Lord, the more deeply we enter into a personal relationship with the Father, with Jesus his Son, and with the Holy Spirit. Making more room for God in our thoughts, our heart, our Marriage and family life, and even in our work and play, brings a peace and joy that the world knows little about.

Living our life in God and with God dwelling in us brings us the peace and anticipation of Advent and Christmas and the sorrow and joy of Lent and Easter. Christian faith is about waiting, sorrow at our human condition, repentance, preparation, and joyful anticipation of joining with other Christians in gathering around our Christian celebration of Jesus' birth, his passion – death – resurrection and abiding presence among us and within us. May the quiet stillness of your heart be filled with the joyful news of the Lord's visitation, because He is “the God who comes”…

Ø  in your life, in your family, in your work and play, in your efforts and in your rest,

Ø  in your close friendships and casual acquaintances, in your comings and goings,

Ø  in your chance encounters and your deliberate meetings, in your adventures and in your returns,

…and may your whole life become more and more a place of Christmas Peace and Easter Joy in the Love of God!

Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Poustinik

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In the "New Covenant" made by our Creator God with humanity (Jeremiah 31:31-34) every person can know God from within - because the Holy Spirit is revealing our Creator to all who are willing to know the Lord and trust in Him. We can still help each other along the way; so may you be pleased to find here a variety of helps to the life of faith in God through Jesus Christ. G.S.

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© 2006-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2006-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC
 

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Règles du discernement des esprits de la première semaine - Selon Saint Ignace de Loyola, fondateur de la Société de Jésus au 16e siècle

In the "New Covenant" made by our Creator God with humanity, as reported in Jeremiah 31:31-34, every human being can know God from...