Monday, January 7, 2013

Making Room

There is no room for God. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so "full" of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger.

By reflecting on that one simple saying about the lack of room at the inn, we have come to see how much we need to listen to Saint Paul's exhortation: "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). Paul speaks of renewal, the opening up of our intellect (nous), of the whole way we view the world and ourselves. The conversion that we need must truly reach into the depths of our relationship with reality.

Let us ask the Lord that we may become vigilant for his presence, that we may hear how softly yet insistently he knocks at the door of our being and willing. Let us ask that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognize him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world.

Homily, Midnight Mass 2012

Reflection – I want to reflect a bit personally today on this section of the Pope’s homily (and the peanut gallery says, ‘And this is different from your usual blogging how?’). My life as a priest in Madonna House, on top of the normal and utterly central sacramental and liturgical ministries every priest does, is in this year of 2013 basically divided into two works.

I am a writer, and I am a spiritual director. In my latter capacity I simply spend an awful lot of time sitting and listening, listening and sitting. The joys, the sorrows, the everyday problems and the life-shaking crises, the spiritual questions and problems of a wide range of people come to me in this daily work that the Lord has asked me to do.

What’s it for? What good is it? People come, they tell me their problems, I might give a little bit of advice, and I pray with them and bless them. I don’t have a magic wand, or a medicine cabinet full of appropriate drugs, or a bank account full of money to throw at the problem (like that always helps). And indeed it is not unknown that people will come to a director month by month, year after year, with roughly the same problems and struggles. Even the most self-assured and faith-assured spiritual director is occasionally going to wonder just what the point is of this particular exercise.

The Pope’s words in this homily struck me in this personal way because I think he precisely expresses what the point is, at least as I understand it, of spiritual direction, but then in the larger sense, of spiritual life, spiritual growth, spiritual striving. It is this: ‘that we may become vigilant for his presence, that we may hear how softly yet insistently he knocks at the door of our being and willing… that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognize him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world.’

It is not about getting all our problems solved. It is not about getting our act together. It is not about ‘shaping up.’ It is not about any of that. It is about growth in vigilance to hear God, to see God, to recognize Him and respond in love to Him. It is about making room for God in the inn of our hearts.

Sometimes in spiritual direction a primary task is identifying the clutter that is crowding out the manger and suggesting some basic culling and rearranging to free up some space. It is a matter of making a little bit of space so that the baby Jesus can slip in there… and once in there, start to grow, start to take up more space. Next thing you know, more culling and rearranging is needed. A child, a youth, an adult takes up more space than that little baby.

At each step, the heart must be emptied, and only what is still of value put back into it. Finally that baby, that man, that Christ is crucified in the person. A crucified person takes up the maximum space—stretched out, fully extended. Sooner or later, God asks for all the room in our hearts. We thought we could give Him a little corner, a manger to rest in, but now He’s taken over the joint. He wants it all, and will not rest until He has it. He’s like that.

It seems to me that the role of the spiritual director is primarily to help move furniture around, haul things off to the dump, knock down the occasional wall, and constantly and at all times remind the person that it’s all about Jesus, all about making room for Him in our hearts, our lives, and learning to see Him in all things, all situations, all people, especially the ones who demand our love and call us to sacrificial generosity and service.

This is what spiritual life is all about, and this is what I try to serve in my priestly ministry and life.

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