January 14, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Let God become your ‘weekday friend’ during Ordinary Time

The Christmas season ended with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 9. Now, for a time until Ash Wednesday, we observe what the Church calls Ordinary Time. After Lent and the Easter season, Ordinary Time will resume up to next Advent.

The late Cardinal Basil Hume, O.S.B., Archbishop of Westminster in England, had been a favorite role model of mine for coming to terms with a practical spirituality. He died of cancer in June of 1999.

He would describe the intervening Ordinary Time of the Church’s liturgical cycle as the season for quiet reflection. He spoke and wrote often about the need for a stillness and peace in the routine of our lives—with a focus on the scriptural readings.

Often, I resort to a short piece that he wrote on “The Mystery of Love.”

He wrote:

“Holiness involves friendship with God.
“The movement towards the realization of God’s love for us is similar to our relationship with other people.
“There comes a moment, which we can never quite locate or catch, when an acquaintance becomes a friend.
“In a sense, the change from one to the other has been taking place over a period of time.
“But there comes a point when we know we can trust the other, exchange confidences, keep each other’s
secrets. We are friends.
“There has to be a moment like that in our relationship with God.
“He ceases to be just a Sunday acquaintance and becomes a weekday friend”
(A Spiritual Companion, Paraclete Press, 2001, p. 11).

For God to become a “weekday friend” requires reflection and prayer.

And Ordinary Time is a recommended fit. Yet, to be silent and still is an art to be learned. The learning is essential if we do not want to be trapped in the purely secular and the material aspects of life.

We need to escape from the emptiness of secularism and the attractions of materialism.

Cardinal Hume makes the point that “true religion does not condemn what is material, nor does it fail to respect the laws of science, economics or medicine. It teaches that the world is good, that we are stewards of creation, and in cultivating its riches we work with the Creator” (cf. A Spiritual Companion, Paraclete Press, 2001, p. 74).

Cardinal Hume also cautions that a steward so easily becomes an exploiter, and that the perfection of the individual an end in itself. And thus, he makes his point that we have to withdraw from time to time to be silent and still, to get perspective, to look beyond this world, and to search for the origin and purpose of all.

Be silent and still, look and listen, then, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, from things visible we come to the knowledge of the one who is beyond the experiences of our senses (Ibid).

If we want God to be a “weekday friend,” we also have to dig deep for the humility and trust that friendship demands.

The cardinal wrote: “When you get no consolation in prayer, when you feel you are getting nowhere, that may be the best prayer you have ever said, because you are doing it not for your sake, but for God’s. Always seek the God of consolation; never seek the consolations of God. It is always that way round.

“Quite often, we are in a kind of distraught mood, and simply don’t know how to pray, feeling that deep sense of being lost. It is good at such times to see oneself rather like the lost sheep in the parable caught in the briars, surrounded by fog; the more you try to escape from the brambles, the more you get entangled. The more you try to rush through the fog, the more likely you are to get lost. When you are in that mood, just wait in your prayer; wait for him to come and disentangle you” (A Spiritual Companion, p. 77).

To wait for God to come requires not only humility and trust but, more precisely, it requires faith in him and the belief that we are important enough in his eyes that he will come to our assistance. It takes stillness and quiet to recall that the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 to look for the one gone astray. We need the patience to wait and to believe that God knows our needs.

Ordinary Time and our quest to find God as our weekday friend beckon us to stillness and reflection, to prayer. We don’t have to be perfect at prayer. Our task is to spend the time and to let God do his part.

Weekday friendship with God is a gracious gift waiting for us no matter our state in life. †

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