Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Most Practical Thing In the World

Little — be always little! Be simple, poor, childlike.
Preach the Gospel with your life — without compromise! Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you.
Go into the marketplace and stay with Me. Pray, fast. Pray always, fast.
Be hidden. Be a light to your neighbour’s feet. Go without fear into the depth of men’s hearts. I shall be with you.
Pray always. I will be your rest.
The Little Mandate of Madonna House

Pray, fast. Pray always, fast. Tuesday is Little Mandate day on the blog, for a few more weeks at least. These words from the mandate follow upon the call to go into the marketplace. Last week I wrote about how this marketplace is not simply a physical location, like ‘downtown Toronto’ but is the heart of man, bought and sold for good or for evil. Human life (really, human beings) becoming, not a gift received and given in love, but a commodity to be fashioned and bartered for, valued not absolutely and in itself, but for what it has.

And so our life is to go into this marketplace and be with Jesus in it. To be present to the pains and sorrows, the coldness and hardness of our fallen world, in a spirit of love and mercy, which is what being ‘with Jesus’ means. So the question arises: how are we to do that?

Pray, fast, pray always, fast. This part of the mandate then calls us to accept our radical dependence on God to achieve the work of mercy He has called us to do. We do not do it, exactly; God does it in and with and through us. Our praying always and fasting is vital to our allowing Him to do just that.

It is my serious conviction that the biggest deficit in our world today is that not enough people are praying, not as much as they should, anyhow. People of faith, people who are actually very sincere in their convictions and honestly do want to do some good in this world are, I believe, hampered and ineffective because they are not praying as they should.

In North America, we are a culture of ‘doers’ – busy activist people. We are pragmatic hard headed realists who believe in getting everything organized in a cost-effective way and pushing the pedal to the metal to git the job done. And we are currently in the process of driving off the cliff, Thelma and Louise style, with precisely that kind of efficiency and hustle.

I always cherish the memory of one of my weeks at Cana Colony, our MH family camp, where after having given various thoughts about various spiritual matters, I announced at a late-week conference, ‘So let’s get practical now.’ One of the dads quietly rejoiced that I was finally going to talk about practical stuff. My next sentence was ‘Let’s talk about prayer!’ This was not what he meant by ‘practical’, to say the least.

But prayer is the most practical, the most sensible thing in the world to do. If we are trying to do something that is actually a divine thing—loving God and loving neighbour as ourselves, loving as Christ loved us—then how on earth are we going to do that, or even know how to do it, if we are not constantly and continually turning to Him in prayer? Without prayer, we are hopelessly defeated before we even start.

I sincerely believe that we need some kind of massive movement to renew prayer in the Church today. There is too much action, too much talking especially, without the animating spirit of Christ in it. 

Too much being in the marketplace without Jesus, too much wading into whatever the controversies and difficulties of the day are without a listening heart, a merciful spirit, a deeper reflection that can only come with God’s help. And so we just become part of the marketplace, part of the competition and noise and acrimony, and ultimately the reduction of people to things, love corrupted to use.

I haven’t said anything about the fasting part of this yet, and that will wait for next week. For now, as Teresa of Avila put it, the only remedy for the sin or fault of not praying is to start praying. So… let us pray, and in our prayer may God show us the way forward for each of our lives and for the world.

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