June 3, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Relax, slow down and seek God

(Editor’s note: While Archbishop Buechlein continues to recover from a stroke, we offer some reprints of his various columns for your enrichment. The following column is from the June 8, 2001, issue of The Criterion.)

With the approach of summer, we would do well to think about slowing life down a bit, at least from the perspective of all those workaday things that tend to make our lives a bit anxious and hectic.

If we don’t step aside to take a measure of what counts, we tend to feel like we are beginning “to run on empty.” The arrival of spring brought with it a resurgence of hope so dearly needed by all of us, but by early summer it is a good idea to provide some reinforcement to our spirit of hope.

What to do? Physical activities tend to pick up in the summer time, and that’s not all bad as long as we don’t go overboard in that direction.

Some of you parents have recited the soccer and baseball schedules of your children, and I know that means extra planning. I don’t know how you keep things straight, much less find time to relax.

Some of you have asked me to intercede—at least in regard to the scheduling that is handled by our CYO or parish programming.

I am sorry, but that is one intervention I don’t think I want to take on. If you think about it, I believe you can understand. The fact remains that each of us has to make personal decisions about how we find a reasonable pace of life for ourselves and our children. I doubt that any of us find that easy to do.

Ages ago, one of my favorite people, St. Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, gave us some good advice, which may be helpful in the midst of planning summer activities.

He wrote: “Insignificant man, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labours. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him” (From the Proslogion; cf., Friday Office of Readings, First Week of Advent).

Notice, with a touch of realism, St. Anselm said, “escape for a short while,” and he proceeded to recommend how to escape. “Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him. Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, Lord, I desire. Lord, my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you.”

We don’t need hours and hours of free time to escape into our mind’s inner chamber. But we need to make the conscious decision to take the few minutes a day to make that journey in search of God in our hearts. It will make all the difference.

St. Anselm’s consoling realism continues: “Lord, if you are not here, where shall I look for you in your absence: Yet, if you are everywhere, why do I not see you when you are present? But surely you dwell in ‘light inaccessible.’ And where is light inaccessible? How shall I approach light inaccessible? Or who will lead me and bring me into it that I may see you there? And then, by what signs and under what forms shall I seek you? I have never seen you, Lord my God; I do not know your face.”

Our task and challenge is to take the time and to find the place of relative quiet to enter our mind’s inner chamber. Only the Lord can show us his face; we can’t do that part.

And so St. Anselm told us how to pray. “Look upon us, Lord, hear us and enlighten us, show us your very self. … Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you and love you in finding you.”

Realistically, it is not likely that life will slow down very much even in the lazier days of summer. Yet, we can find our spirits lifted in hope if we step aside—even if only for a few minutes—and place ourselves in the presence of God. There, we can find hope because before God our horizon on the journey of life is enlarged beyond our own small world.

We need to see that larger horizon and the light of God’s grace makes it happen. Our part is to seek the Lord. He is as near as the inner chamber of our minds and hearts. †

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