I had always read in my spiritual readings that it isn’t enough just to be a good person in the world, and just “not hurt anyone”. One of my favorite songs, “Brave” by Nichole Nordeman, starts with the verse “The gate is wide, the road is paved to moderation. The crowd is kind and quick to pull you in. Welcome to the middle ground, its safe and sound and, until now its where I’ve been.” Naturally, this song is based in scripture. Many places we read about the middle ground and our need to avoid it. To follow Christ requires only the brave. It means giving things up that you think you love, which is why Lent is a very fruitful time of year for us to detached from these earthly delights. Revelation 3:16 says “So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (NAB). That would not be good. I don’t want that.
So I pray. And I think, “Gee, I am praying so I must be a somewhat decent person”, right? Well, I guess the way I pray or don’t pray can be problematic as well. I am reading “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ” a story of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s life and meditations. Having received several kinds of stigmata in her life, Anne Catherine was always offering herself as an instrument of suffering united to Christ’s, for souls for the Kingdom of God. Much of this suffering was for the church itself. During a time of severe illness and almost constant ecstasy (think spirit with God, body still here) she was moving her hands in a weeding-like motion. Her hands were then noticed to have stinging and itching in the form of blisters (like from “sticker-bushes”) and were red and swollen. When a bedside friend asked her what the cause of the swelling and pain was, she replied “Ah! I have had so many nettles to root up in the vineyard, because those whose duty it was to do it only pulled off the stems, and I was obliged to draw the roots with much difficulty out of a stony soil”. The friend blamed these “careless workers” for her pain, but she replied to him, “You were one of them,–those who only pull of the stems of the nettles, and leave the roots in the earth, are persons who pray carelessly.”
Oh. Uh-oh. Like my dad would say “I smell rubber burning” (the smell my brain must make when its little belt runs hard to produce a full-out thought). I suppose I felt saying the prayer would help me to feel the prayer, such as a chicken before the egg situation. I have heard many people say they can’t pray in their heart, but they speak the words for lack of spirit, hoping that Christ can make due with what little we have to give. This is true; he can make something from nothing if we give it to him. The problem is, I don’t even give it to him sometimes when I pray. I say the words because I am tucking in the kids at night, and sometimes I walk around the room straightening as I pray, laying out clothes for the next day, etc. I noticed recently, when I stop and really PRAY those prayers, the boys seem to spiritually engage as well. Their words become stronger, more fervent, or at least auditory if they weren’t praying at all before that.
So here is Blessed Anne Catherine, with blisters and stickers all over her poor hands, digging and digging in the spiritual dirt, despite her pain, knowing full-well that she is repairing the sin of many men who throw prayers out without engaging their hearts to God, and for Mother Church around the world, who lacks laborers for the harvest.
A friend said today that she heard a speaker over the weekend say “Pray intimately”. If we are talking to our spouse and they are watching television while we tell them an important story, that hurts. Ever had a friend continually texting someone else while you are trying to carry on a conversation? How must God feel without throwing words at Him, sacred words, without a care? In the words of a dear priest, giving a homily to seminarians in Rome, “Pray your prayers. PRAY your prayers. PRAY YOUR PRAYERS.” Let’s just begin there.