At the last meeting of the Conference of National Spiritual Assistants, following a suggestion by Peter Keogh, National Minister, during a Seminar on SFO Spiritual Assistance conducted by the Franciscan Friars, it was resolved that the Conference should offer a monthly spiritual message. This message would reach Seculars through the Regional Spiritual Assistants. It is hoped that it will be particularly useful to fraternities that do not enjoy regular Spiritual Assistance. What follows is the first of these messages.
At the November (2000) meeting of the SFO International Council a message was offered to all members of the SFO. The message carried the title Fruit of the Jubilee:A New Vision. Emanuela De Nunzio spoke of how the Presidency was almost crushed by the amount of queries, problems and difficulties set before it and how she felt the need to offer a message of hope and encouragement. One of the things that she invited members of the SFO to do was "to allow themselves to be found and loved by God, who is Love."
"To allow ourselves to be found by God" is a striking expression. It implies that we are in fact running away from God or somehow fending off his approaches, hiding from His presence, as Adam did in the Garden of Eden. This means that we are doing much more than simply not hearing Him. In fact we are actively blocking his advances.
The great St. Bernard says something very beautiful about the way in which God approaches us.
"And so when the Bridegroom, the Word, came to me he never made any sign that he was coming; there was no sound of his voice, no glimpse of his face, no footfall. There was no movement by which I could know his coming; none of my senses showed me that he had flooded the depths of my being. Only by the warmth of my heart, as I said before, did I know that he was there, and I knew the power of his might because (Eph 1:13) my faults are purged and my body's yearnings brought under control. And when my secret thoughts were revealed (Ps 18:13) and made visible, I have been amazed at the depth of his wisdom (Sir 7:25). At the slightest sign of amendment of life, I have experienced the goodness of his mercy. In the remaking and the renewing of the spirit of my mind (Eph 4:23), that is the inner man, I perceived the excellence of his glorious beauty (Ps 49:2) and when I contemplate all these things I am filled with awe of his manifold greatness (Ps 130:2)."
Because God comes to us so gently we have to create a space through which he can enter. God is not found in noise and when we are too preoccupied or too busy we block his presence.
On the other hand if we sit in his presence he will come and we shall feel ourselves being transformed. We experience the warmth of his presence and the peace his coming brings. We come to know ourselves more objectively, to face our faults and to begin to correct them. We perceive subtle changes in our lives, especially in the pace we live at, under the clam touch of his presence.
Achieving this may involve changes in the things we do with respect to our spiritual life and its development. It may mean for some shedding some "vocal" prayers and replacing them with quiet time. It may mean slowing down "vocal" prayers. It will inevitably mean finding some time for spiritual reading that will open our horizons to stimulate thoughts for our quiet time with our Lord.
For some it may mean changing the content of their prayers. If petitions predominate it may mean changing to prayers of thanks or adoration. It may mean lifting our minds to God and beyond our own needs. In others words we will have to provide a variety of diet for ourselves when at prayer.
The liturgical cycle, the mysteries of the Rosary and many other aids to prayer furnish a range of doctrines and Gospel scenes that stimulate prayer. They allow us to cater for our changing moods and to balance the aspects of spirituality we cover in our prayer.
If we want to allow God to come to us we will have to be creative in the means that we use to cultivate his presence. Each one of us is different and we have to experiment to find what suits us best. What is certain is that if we show the slightest expression of interest God will reward it with his presence. The process begins by determining to set aside some time regularly.
In her Letters St. Clare speaks about cultivating God's presence as summoning up an image or a picture. She speaks of looking into a mirror that holds a reflection of the image of Christ. Her advice to Agnes of Prague was:
Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance!
And transform your entire being into the image
of the Godhead Itself through contemplation.
Third Letter to Blessed Agnes 12, 13.
If we do this we shall surely be "allowing ourselves to be found by God".
Patrick Colbourne O.F.M.Cap.
Feast of St Joseph of Cottolengo SFO 1786-1842