or, The Curate's Egg
A Clamped Contemplative
On Sunday afternoon I decided to go to Vespers in the Cathedral. It made a change to have a Sunday without Baptisms and I thought I would take the chance to immerse myself in the music of the psalms and the peace of Benediction and let someone else be in the driving seat for a change.
Prayer is hard at the moment, and prayer is what will make me what I am. If prayer is the oxygen we breathe as Christians then 1 am feeling a bit asthmatic.
I find my prayer is full of worry, distractions; I keep waiting for a peace to descend and it doesn't; when I try to pray my mind is full of the tasks ahead. You can almost guarantee that as soon as you sit down for a few moments in Church someone will come up to you and ask you for something. Similarly if I am in the house, the phone will go or there will be a particularly aggressive tramp at the door, and you return to prayer full of business. "He will drink from the stream by the wayside and therefore he will lift up his head," says the first psalm for Sunday Vespers, and somehow I always think it is an image of prayer. I keep looking for that stream by the wayside from which to refresh myself, but at the moment the waters aren't very clear. What can you do'? Pray, carry on, exert the will, trust that God is there, even if you are somewhere else in your mind. A wise priest I heard recently preached that we must never forget that prayer is not a task we fit in to our day, so much as we fit our tasks into a day of prayer. I know notionally that the answer when prayer is difficult is try to do more of it.
Lack of this inner space, the "secret mom," begins to colour my whole outlook. Things which are routinely irritating start to build into a pattern I can almost feel is intended to put hurdles in the way. The man who concelebrates Mass with me sotto twee, but not so sotto voce that I can't hear it a halfbeat behind or in front of my own words; the running battle I have to try and make my Communion without somebody reading the entrance antiphon in the middle of it or otherwise wandering round the sanctuary, the mutterings of the servers; all these disturb my efforts to be focussed and still at Mass.
I came out of the Cathedral feeling at peace, only to discover that my car had been clamped. What I thought was meter parking was, in fact, residents parking only and the restrictions had recently been extended to Sundays, presumably as a way of minting even more money from the motorist.
I thought it was a good image for how my prayer life feels clamped. I paid the requisite fine and release fee over the phone and prayed that i would be released soon enough to get hack in time for evening Mass. I was and I did, just.
Since the Gospel was about the call of Simon, Andrew James
and John. I preached on vocation ill a broad sort of sense -all of us
are called to discipleship of one
kind or another. As I was speaking of the "at once" with which the disciples followed Jesus, I realised that perhaps this was the source of some of my problems. Deep down I still want the Gospel to serve me; I am still hung up on the idea of prayer as a "fix" of discipleship , as self-realisation and not self-abnegation; still too concerned with checking my own spiritual temperature. Prayer, in fact, is about letting go.
Someone came up to me at the end of Mass and thanked me for the homily. I recognised the face, though it had aged. It was one of the brnthers who taught me at school, only it turned out
he was no longer a brother. I he
reeled off a list of others who had also left the order.
I must confess, I found it rather sad. This week I also heard of a convent building that was closing and up for sale in the neighbouring parish. The sisters had been there for nigh on a hundred years, So many orders whose charism was teaching are just quietly dying out. We must trust in the Holy Spirit, but this charism seems to me to be more needed than ever in the Church. It would make a good base for my community of refugees hum seminary, or to put it more positively, my community of lay people discerning vocation. I think it will probably be developed into flats.
Apropos of nothing in particular. one of these men with whom I spent four years in seminary, handed me a piece of paper yesterday on which was a quotation of the Holy Father's about vocation to priesthood and religious life: "We need heralds of the Gospel who are experts in humanity, who know the depths of the human heart, who can share the joys, hopes agonies, distress of people today, but who are the same times contemplafives who have fallen in love with God."
Now that's what I call a mission statement!