Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Trust in God and Never Give Up, No Matter What!

When we are suffering, we are called to trust in God and abandon ourselves to Him, and to offer our suffering in union with Jesus on the Cross.

This can give us great consolation in our sufferings. Sometimes, however, we don't feel anything like consolation. Indeed, words like "trust," "abandonment," and "offering" can seem strange and overwhelming and remote from the crushing pain that is pressing upon us.

In truth, these things are attitudes of the heart that are not always the focus of consciousness during the actual experience of suffering. They are habits to be cultivated, with dogged persistence, by perseverance in prayer, accountability to other trusted persons, and by the sacraments. In this way we begin to develop consistent dispositions of abandonment, trust, and sacrifice, which are more important than any subjective spiritual experience of consolation or security.

One realizes this especially in mental suffering. Unlike physical suffering, which can be in some way "objectified" by the mind, psychological suffering cuts right through the mind, so that the person enduring it often is not consciously aware that their pain is "really" pain.

In mental illnesses, there are deluded perceptions of worthlessness, distorted sources of anxiety, but often also the continued (false) impression that what is in your mind is under your control. The result is that you attribute the failure to have psychological control to your own lack of character. It is easy to conclude that you have nothing worthy to offer to God in any of this, while you are actually going through it.

But abandonment and trust are real things. They grow by being lived, and (mysteriously) by enduring the stripping away of obstacles to them. Certainly living a life of abandonment to God and trust in God entails walking the path God has given us: prayer, the sacraments, adherence to God's wisdom and goodness, pastoral guidance as well as help from the perspective of others through whom He shows us His mercy, the effort to be merciful ourselves, to carry out works of mercy, and to forgive others. Stay with these things. Even if you don't have a coherent handle on all of them, do what you can and pray -- whatever prayer you can muster! -- to grow closer to God.

In mental sufferings, there is sometimes a hidden voice that whispers, "Don't try to be close to God, you hypocrite. Distance yourself from Him. You are not worthy." These are lies. Don't let them discourage you from hanging onto God even if it's by what seems like the last tenuous thread that links you to Him. When you hear that evil voice, you pray the name of Jesus and you call on Saint Michael. Don't listen to the Liar. Let Jesus and Mary and the Holy Angels drive that monster away. You just hang on!

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Prayer doesn't have to be fancy. We don't have climb some mountain of interior profundity before we can begin communicating with God. He has come to be with us. We can turn to Him with whatever we've got.

To help us get a handle on communicating with God in prayer, we have "prayers" from Scripture and the various streams of the vast Christian tradition. These are not formal speeches or magic incantations. They are the simple, small steps we can take to learn prayer as the expression of trust and abandonment, to learn the "grammar" of the language of the heart. 

I want to mention one practice in particular: the morning offering. It can take various forms, but its essence is to begin the day (as much as possible, "literally," i.e. when you first wake up) with a prayer in which you acknowledge and assent in freedom to the reality that Jesus Christ is the source, the "substance," and the fulfillment of everything that you do and everything that happens to you in the day.

Some twenty five years ago, I was at one of those unforgettable gatherings with the great Msgr Luigi Giussani, and the topic of discussion was something that sounds rather deep -- the "decision for existence." I asked Fr. Giussani how I could make the "decision for existence" in my daily life, and his response was not a philosophical discourse, but something surprisingly simple. He said, "when you wake up every morning, say the Angelus."

And so I have, for the past quarter of a century. The Angelus itself is a kind of "morning offering" (meditate on the prayer, or--in this season--on the Regina Coeli), although I usually follow it with the morning offering prayer to Jesus in His Sacred Heart and a few other prayers. I wouldn't do any of this if I did not have at least the beginnings of trust in God, and the desire to be united to Him in Christ Crucified.

And through the years, it has worked its way into my awareness during the day, in moments of trial, and even in the midst of psychological turmoil.

Prayer. Absolutely essential. No matter how you feel.

When I say "Never Give Up" I mean this: Never Give Up on God!

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