“If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.”
There’s a class going on for married couples in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, called “School of Love”. The teacher of that class delivered this quote, and it has stuck with me since I heard it. The whole course is phenomenal.
At least, I heard it’s phenomenal. I wasn’t there.
I was busy.
One of the difficult things about being a Catholic school teacher, husband, and father is that there are A LOT of tasks that need doing. I know that I am called to excellence in all things. The problem is, there’s only twenty four hours in a day. How can I be excellent at all those things with such limited time? And how do I do that while also maintaining a substantial prayer life?
Well, the beginning of that answer is easy.
Here’s a list of things I did yesterday: worked on a blog, got on Facebook, read some online articles about the St. Louis Cardinals, got on Facebook again, drank beer, mowed the lawn, watched two episodes of The Office, and checked Facebook one more time.
But I did not pray.
At least, not in the way I should have. I sprinkled a few Hail Mary’s throughout the day, threw down some grace before meals, even squeezed in an Act of Contrition before I fell asleep. But I did not meditate. I did a number of other things, as stated above, and even made time for a few of my favorite sins along the way. But “I didn’t have time” to pray.
Pardon my language, but that’s bullsh*t.
I have come to a better understanding of my prayer life over the last couple of years through the help of some friends and my wife. One of the things I’ve learned is that without daily meditative prayer, my relationship with Christ is pretty shallow. I’ve also come to a better understanding of myself over those years, and one of the things I’ve learned about myself is that there is something about daily prayer that seems like a huge freaking burden to me. I need to get over that. It is not burden but beauty that we can most experience through prayer.
One of the most outrageous beliefs Catholics hold is that we can have a personal relationship with the Infinite. The Scriptures are rife with musings on our relationship with God being like that of lovers, or how we are not slaves but friends, or how He has saved us a room in His eternal home. We believe that the I AM became a man, walked among other men, touched them and ate with them and laughed with them. He had a particular walk and voice and sense of humor. He cried. He got angry. He got hungry. He was tempted. This we believe about the Uncaused Cause, the Creator God. And if that’s not enough, we also believe that He joyfully suffers the humiliation of taking on the appearance of something less than human, that He exists physically and literally in our Churches, though He looks like bread. And even further, we believe that we can eat Him, taste Him, even talk to Him while He is in this state. Whoah.
It is coming to understand the audacity of this claim and, more importantly, experiencing its truth, that has allowed me to know what I’m supposed to be doing with my prayer life, even if I don’t always do it.
If Christ is truly my friend, if I am truly meant for intimacy with Him, then our relationship really shouldn’t look that much different than my relationship with, say, my wife. To keep our relationship healthy and happy, lots of things are required. Some are mundane, behavioral “rules”: I have to go to work, I can’t sleep with other women, I need to be kind to her family, etc. I put “rules” in quotations because while those are technically demands I must meet, they are really nothing else than a list of things that would hurt our relationship. So while obedience to those is important, it’s important because it would break down the union between us. But I digress.
While the rules are a part of our relationship, the biggest piece is emotional and physical intimacy. We achieve that in a variety of ways (some of which I can’t write about here, wink wink), but the main way is through communication.
Communication with my wife essentially takes on three forms. The first is check-ins. She’s a lady who loves the check-ins. Whether it’s a text or a call, she just likes to know what I’m doing and know that I’m thinking about her while I’m doing it. Even when I’m home she wants me to check in. I’ll be getting up from the recliner to go take a tinkle and she will inevitably ask, “Where ya going?” Most of the time, it’s pretty cute. She just really likes being with me for some reason, and wants to know that I feel the same towards her.
But beyond the check-ins, we need real, meaningful time with each other. This is the second form of communication. Most days, it ends up being while we are laying in bed or sitting at the dinner table, talking through the day’s events and what is on our hearts and minds. Other days, it’s sitting down to plan the future or make big decisions. Still other times, we just sit on the deck in silence, drinking our coffee and enjoying the morning sun. But regardless of how or when or where it happens, that time is essential. Certainly, some times and places are better than others (going on dates is great, except when I’m distracted by the t.v. at the bar; sitting in the basement together is wonderful, but not when I’m grading papers), but mostly it’s about being in it together.
So it is with Christ. The check-ins are great. Saying a Morning Offering is beautiful. Praying a decade of the rosary on the way to work is a great habit to get into. Saying grace before meals is important. Those help maintain the relationship and are necessary. But those check-ins become a bit hollow or shallow when they are not followed up with a daily investment of time and energy into deepening the relationship. If I only told my wife what time I would be home from work or only sent texts to let her know I had to stop at the gas station, the relationship would eventually fail. This is why a prayer life that includes daily meditation is essential to a healthy spiritual life.
And the third way we communicate is with our bodies. I cracked my little sexual innuendo earlier, but in reality the physical intimacy between my wife and I, in all of its forms, is essential to our relationship. Feeling her hand in mine, smelling her perfume on her dress, kissing her before falling asleep, even just looking into her eyes; these are all important to our love. And that’s the crazy part about Christ. He gets it. He understands the importance of the physical realm (perhaps because He created it). He knows that our souls and bodies are both a part of who we are, and the Church He gave us reflects that. It’s a Church that celebrates the physical. Our masses have bread and wine and incense and art and candles and songs. We sit, stand, kneel, shake hands, bow our heads. Everything about the mass shows us that the physical is not forgotten, but celebrated. It is not repressed, but redeemed. Our relationship with Christ is meant to be physical as well. We must gaze upon his face in Adoration. We must taste him on our tongues and breathe in His scent in the Eucharist. Just as the physical union between my wife and I creates a new life, so does our physical union with Christ. We become, if you will, pregnant with Jesus, carrying him in our bellies and allowing Him to change us from within. The Eucharist is the consummation of the love between God and man. And if we are open to that life of grace within us, a new life will have a chance to live, the inspired life of one who is filled with the Holy Spirit.
Our relationship with Jesus should be a lot like our relationships with all the important people in our lives, and we can build that relationship the same way we build the others. However, that’s certainly easier said than done. I’m not sure I’ve ever strung together more than two or three weeks without missing meditation or mass for more than a day. I often go in hot and cold streaks, praying quite a bit for a while and then fading out. But I think that’s okay (for now). All relationships have ups and downs and require learning how to love the other person, how to die to yourself and your ideas of what needs to get done so that you can just be with them. That’s what we need to do for those we love. That’s what we need to do for Christ. That needs to be my first priority every day, and as long as I am learning and growing, becoming a better friend and child of God’s, then our relationship will blossom and I will experience the joy of His love more fully. I don’t need to read so many articles about Lance Berkman’s knee or Chris Carpenter’s shoulder. But I do need to love and be loved, and that’s all prayer is. It’s being in love with your God.
Enough of this. I need to go pray.