Let me begin with these beautifully personal words of St. Augustine which, though written in the 3rd century, speak to each one of us as humans who share in the common experience of longing for God, something much larger than what we merely see around us: I implore you to live with me and, by believing, to run with me; let us long for our heavenly country, let us sigh for our heavenly home, let us truly feel that here we are strangers. It is fitting that as another liturgical year comes to a close, we together as strangers celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King during the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, recalling our very beginning and ultimate end in the Kingdom of God. It is truly remarkable that while we are strangers, we are strangers together who, though in earthly exile, sigh for our heavenly home with one another. In this respect, we are never strangers in the sense that we may not know one another personally, but we are strangers in that we are all unfamiliar with the physical realm we currently inhabit as we are not made for this earth. By this common trait of ours, though we all may differ in regards to color, creed, or culture, the fact that we are on this earthly pilgrimage together means that we are all intimately bound to each other as one.
|St. Joseph Abbey Church|
St. Benedict, Louisiana
Christ tells us, The kingdom of God, does not come for all to see; nor shall they say: Behold, here it is, or behold, there it is, but the kingdom of God is within us, for the word of God is very near, in our mouth and in our heart. It is very clear that by Jesus’ own teaching and followed by the living tradition of the Church, since we are all created in the image and likeness of God, the dignity we possess as creatures in the hands of our loving Creator is the same dignity bestowed on us as bearers of God, his dwelling place. St. Teresa of Avila explains to her fellow consecrated sisters that the soul of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the Lord says he finds his delight. St. Teresa goes on to illustrate the interior dwelling of God within each of us as an immense castle where our soul progresses from room to room until it finds its rest in the royal chamber of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ. This journey of our soul is indeed a way toward greater and greater perfection as the more perfect we are interiorly (i.e. the more our desires are rightly-ordered), the more inviting we become for the Spirit of God to find his rest within us. Christ, speaking with the Father, wonderfully describes the blessedness of the faithful person with a well-ordered soul: We shall come to him and make our home with him.
But what is it to be well-ordered and prefect? What supernatural, angelic being must we become in order to possess the entire immensity of the omnipotent Trinity within us, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? No. No, perfection is much simpler and within our reach than that, so simple in fact it must come from God himself; any complication in the matter is a mere pesky habit of human origin. Let us understand, as St. Teresa tells us that true perfection consists in love of God and neighbor; the more perfectly we keep these two commandments, the more perfect we will be. The simplicity of what it means to be perfect leads us to the simplicity of being perfect, which is quite simply love of God and neighbor. By the very fact that we are not strangers with one another, in virtue of our heavenly origin, but rather brothers and sisters who journey together as strangers in a strange land, to be perfect is deeply rooted in the instinct we possess and the command we are given to love each other with the same love we have for God.
The endeavor to reach this perfection begins, as with any endeavor we undertake, with prayer. Of all that has been written about prayer throughout the centuries, one thing remains constant: prayer is the conformity of our will with the will of God. When writing his Rule for monks, St. Benedict instructs his brothers that every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection. In whatever form our prayer may take, whether a group praying the rosary, a person meditating under an oak tree, a community praying together at mass, or a poor soul contemplating God while stuck in traffic, our prayer should come from and lead us toward the surrendering of our will, with all its desires, passions, wants, fears, anxieties, dreams, concerns, joys, etc., etc., into the trusting care of the God who made us, just as we pray in the prayer Jesus himself taught us: thy Kingdom come, thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Again, St. Teresa illumines this point with words more authoritative than mine: Don’t think that in what concerns perfection there is some mystery or things unknown or still to be understood, for in perfect conformity to God’s will lies all our good.