I am in my 81st year of life, my 63rd “in religion.” And like many of you, my readers, I have had long, dry experiences of the God Who Is Silent—all those meditations when I kept looking at the clock: Will this hour never be over? What is it you want of me, God? Speak to me. Give me five minutes of consolation.
Well, no more. This year I have seen the light. Better still, I have heard the voice, God’s voice, and my meditations are completely different. I still look at the clock; that has not changed. But now the questions are: What more do you have to say to me, God? Will you not let up for a minute? Will you give me no rest? Why did you hold up this grace for so long? Is it because I could not have handled it well before now?
It seems that retirement has given me the leisure finally to understand that God never stops speaking to me. Perhaps I could not have borne it while I was in an active ministry. Or perhaps I let what I thought was God’s will for me deafen me to the God who was constantly talking to me. Now the light has dawned and the voice is loud and clear. God speaks to me every moment in multiple ways on every subject under the sun. I no longer need to go aside and rest awhile to hear God’s voice. It is there constantly, biding me to respond.
As a consequence I have never been more fully alive, when one would think I should be counting my last hours. Only a few physical infirmities prevent me from engaging in what younger people would call “a more active life.”
My breakthrough is the result of realizing what St. Ignatius Loyola, a master of the spiritual life, meant when he wrote in the first prelude of the contemplation on the Incarnation in his Spiritual Exercises: “to call to mind the history of the matter which I have to contemplate: how the three divine persons were regarding all the surface or circuit of the whole world, full of men; and how, seeing that all were going down into hell, they determined in their eternity, that the second Person should become Man to save the human race; and thus, when the fullness of time had come, they sent the angel Gabriel to our Lady.”
How sterile those words now seem as I type them! They hardly convey to me what the impact of those words has come to mean to me after 63 years of religious life. Yet it is so simple: God is involved in this world. God the transcendent, the immanent, God the person, God the other, beyond my or anyone’s comprehension, is dealing with me, is talking to me, is leading me through this created, fallible, finite (or infinite?) world in which I live and move and have my being.
That is why something I heard many years ago is now so clear: “Read Scripture as if it were the daily newspaper, and read the daily newspaper as if it were Scripture.” What I ingest from the media is God’s holy word to me. Everything speaks to me of how God works in this world for my continual salvation and eventual new creation.
To what can I ascribe this light that struck me? To grace, of course. At some point all those prayers I uttered over the years to the Holy Spirit to teach me how to pray were answered.
Grace Working on Nature
Grace works on nature. I should not forget that. Some physical and psychological adjustments helped to make a difference. In my youth, in my middle age, in all those times when I was engaged in active ministry, I used to do
my “mental” prayer the first thing in the morning. I was taught to get it out of the way or other things would interfere.
In retirement, however, I can adjust my prayer life as I wish. And what I wish to do is to become fully alive and responsive before I began to pray. So I put off reading the Divine Office and spending time in prayer until 10 or 11 a.m., sometimes until 4 p.m. Maybe you cannot do that. But I found that particular change greatly improved my prayer. I still look at the clock, and the meditation still drags at times. But at other times during prayer I have to say, “Hold off, God, I cannot absorb all your messages right now. Give me a break.”
Of course, I have as background all those years of prayer, of spiritual reading, of liturgical celebrations, of interaction with friends who opened up for me vistas of prayer. These vistas are all still with me, a cushion to my prayer. The brunt of my daily meditations, however, comes from the world in which I live each day—from the media, from social interaction, from commitment to a way of life and a particular form of spirituality, the Ignatian way. An annual eight-day retreat is balanced by the daily newspapers. I might even be accused of making the daily New York Times or CNN a fifth Gospel.
For whom am I writing this? For myself, as a way of saying to God: “Thank you” for this belated grace, and for my peers who may want to stop and thank God for similar graces. I would hope these words might also give an impetus to the young, who could learn from my mistakes and move beyond my stumblings.
Whatever your age, may you learn the richness to be found in prayer—a prayer life that will make you creators of a new world and that will reflect the “God who speaks through creation.”